What's next Greenpeace, burning books?

In the early hours of a Wednesday morning two weeks ago, three Greenpeace activists made their way past the perimeter fence at Ginninderra Experiment Station in Canberra, Australia, and destroyed a crop of GM wheat using weed strimmers. A spokeswoman for Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the national science agency which runs the station, said the damage was estimated to run A$300,000. In a statement released by Greenpeace Australia Pacific, activist Laura Kelly stated that "We had no choice but to take action to bring an end to this experiment".

Both scientists and the public have been quick to criticise the action, labelling Greenpeace as dogmatic and anti-science. Professor Mark Tester, a plant scientist at the University of Adelaide, told reporters:

"I am deeply disappointed at the news that Greenpeace has stooped so far in their desperate attempt to gain publicity for their campaign against genetically modified wheat. GM technology is not a magic bullet but it does offer new opportunities to improve the quality and quantity of wheat. Scientists are trying to reduce the environmental impacts of farming and so help farmers in the developing world and Australia"

The experiment crop in question had been selectively modified to boost its nutritional content, offering a lower Glycemic Index and higher fibre content. It was scheduled to be tested on animals and a small cohort of human volunteers, but was not intended to be released into the wild or processed in commercial foodstuffs.


Image CC CIAT International Centre for Tropical Agriculture

Michael Jones, Director of the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre at Murdoch University in Perth, was more forthright in his criticisms: "Australia is destined to become the 'stupid country' if it condones acts such as Greenpeace's destruction of the CSIRO wheat trials," he wrote. "Greenpeace's Luddite destruction of GM field tests does nothing to address global agronomic and food security, and simply wastes taxpayers and farmers' funds."

Initially jubilant about the action, the Australian Greenpeace Twitter account fell conspicuously silent as the seriousness of how badly they had misjudged public opinion became apparent. Supporters were thanked while critics ignored or invited to direct their questions to a live chat scheduled for the following Monday. The absence of rebuttal allowed criticism of Greenpeace's latest stunt to rapidly snowball. What precautions, for example, did Greenpeace take to ensure that no GM-material was transported off site? Whereas the CSIRO lab was controlled under the strict mandates of the Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), what guarantee was there that the Greenpeace activists were competent enough to follow similar protocols?

Wilson Da Silva, editor of Australia's COSMOS magazine, lamented an organisation that "was once a friend of science", but has become "a sad, dogmatic, reactionary phalanx of anti-science zealots who care not for evidence, but for publicity." I could not agree with him more. Greenpeace's Luddite decline has been in progress for decades. In 1986, Patrick Moore parted ways with the organisation he cofounded, infuriated by their rejection of science. (according to Moore, the tipping point was Greenpeace's campaign against the chlorination of drinking water, a public health intervention that has probably saved more lives than any other in the history of medicine).

Like their ever-present biohazard suits, Greenpeace activists wear science like a fashion - something to be shed as soon as it grows uncomfortable. Greenpeace has become, at its core, a faith-based organisation, with all the attendant dogmas. By visiting the Greenpeace website you begin to understand how the organisation has become so badly out of step with prevailing public attitudes. Arguments that are superficially plausible fall apart under closer scrutiny. The organisation justifies the attack on CSIRO by highlighting their ties with "foreign GM companies", a move that speaks volumes about the mindset of those within. Science is never carried out in isolation, and scientists understand better than anyone the care required to remove undue influence from a result. They have built an entire system dedicated to doing just that - it's called science. But to Greenpeace, such corporations are solidly, irrevocably evil entities who taint by association. Fraternising with such an enemy is strictly off limits. At the heart of this fundamentalist green movement is an almost Catholic-like obsession with sin, and the need to be kept pure by rejecting any compromise. It's a mentality that has insulated swathes of the green movement against the rest of the world, so that they exist in a solipsistic bubble that explodes - sometimes literally - when it comes into contact with the real world.

The greatest tragedy is not that Greenpeace has lost its way, but that it is now actively preventing the discussion from moving beyond childlike arguments of good vs bad, toward deciding how we want to use technologies like GM. The power of agribusiness, the needs of farmers, protection of the environment and the safety of our food are all important issues that we need to address, but this cannot and will not be achieved through the mindless destruction of scientist's work.

This article was commissioned two weeks ago for a news outlet but didn't get published in the end, so I'm throwing it up here.

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Unfortunately that is how they make their money. Greenpeace are as much a part of the market as any Madison Avenus firm, it just that their opriduct is fear and it is very lucrative.

If they told the truth or even allowed it to be told they would be out of business.

Since experimental science is the way to find out the truth or otherwise of scare stories, they hate science.

The eco-fascists also hate science for the rather purer reason that they are afraid of any priogress, which is bound to weaken the position of stupid or ignorant people who ghappen tom be at the top in society.

By definition then they will never compromise with science and any attempt to do so by scientists simply harms us.

The number of people killed by these eco-Nazis (eg the DDT scare, the anti-nuclear lies, lies about pollution, global coolingm global warming, peak oil, peak everything else, etc etc) has unnecessarily killed hundreds of millions - far more than Hitler and Stalin combined.

Hmmmm... a few thoughts here as I feel this article extrapolates rather wildly from one event, whatever your view on it:

1. Greenpeace campaigns on many issues - whether or not you agree with this action does not devalue the rest of their work. Have a look at recent campaigns on over-fishing, illegal logging etc etc.
2. There are variations between offices/campaigns. Even if the GM campaign in Greenpeace Australia makes a mistake (if that is the case), there's no reason other campaigns wouldn't remain valid.
3. Can't comment worldwide on Greenpeace's use of science, but I've witnessed it being applied perfectly well - it certainly isn't 'worn like a fashion'. Go and read some of the recent reports that have been published, or why not get in touch with the Greenpeace lab in Exeter, UK.
4. Re the 'companies are irrevocably evil' bit, that's simply incorrect - a Greenpeace core principle (and these are stuck to) is having no permanent allies or enemies. There are many instances of campaigns where Greenpeace has ended up working with what was originally a campaign target to help solve an environmental problem.
@ Neil:
5. Greenpeace doesn't make any money - everything that comes in is spent on campaigning - no money is accepted from companies or political groups (nope, not even the Green Party).
6. I'm a scientist and a Greenpeace volunteer - certainly not an 'eco-fascist' or 'eco-Nazi' (please grow up) - I'd love to see the data to support your last paragraph :) Equally interesting that you consider climate change and the environmental impacts of DDT etc to be 'scare stories' when they are supported strongly by science - doesn't match your other comments matey boy!

For the other side of the crazy coin, see Neil Craig.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 28 Jul 2011 #permalink

Pro-starvation terrorists.

By Abdul Alhazred (not verified) on 28 Jul 2011 #permalink

Burning books? More like burning corporate manuals.
"GM science" is an oxymoron when referring to the development of patented commercial crops. Just corporate invention and interest. Regulation requirements are set at lowest common denominator that serves clearance for trade, as recommended by the economic body the OECD.

If you haven't already done so google "Emily Waltz Under Wraps" for a Nature Biotechnology article on the patent holder restrictions on independent research on their products.

Good thing the Climate isn't patented.

By Madeleine Love (not verified) on 28 Jul 2011 #permalink

@2 DaveH
Well, vitamin A deficiency has killed somewhere in the range of 21 million people since the first varieties of Golden Rice, the vitamin A fortified GMO rice, were developed. Assuming that, upon being implemented, Golden Rice is only able to save half of those people, that's still somewhere in the range of the estimated number of people murdered in the Holocaust that anti-GMO activists are directly or indirectly responsible for. Most scientists tend to avoid those sorts of emotional arguments, but the fact is, it really isn't an unfair statement to make, and given that the emotion and rhetoric filled cries of 'Frankenfood' and other such nonsense tend to get the most public attention I sometimes wonder if scientists should be a little less Spock-like in their rhetoric.

I question the point about their money too. Yeah, I get that they're a non-profit, and I'm not doubting that. However, were I a professional activist making a living off the so-called GMO controversy (and I had no qualms about using dishonesty for my own benefit), it would clearly be in my best interest to continue to drum up controversy to keep that donation money flowing. And granted they say the same thing about scientists (claiming 'they only support GMOs because they'd lose their job if they were bad'), however, I would put forward that there is a distinct difference between doing research and reporting findings and professional activism. Many scientists get paid either way, in fact, they'd probably get more funding and grants for finding something bad than finding something expected. The same is not true of Greenpeace activists.

And it is also true that Greenpeace may well be right about a good many things, but this does throw the whole organization into doubt. If I'm going to listen to someone on, say, overfishing, rainforest destruction, or global warming, all of which Greenpeace occasionally makes good points on, I want to listen to and support someone who is using science as their basis whether it fits their overall message or not, not simply whatever happens to fit the anti-capitalism anti-corporate agenda.

@5 Madeleine Love

You do realize this was publicly funded government research that was destroyed? I'm always baffled at how many people can see government research destroyed and say 'Yeah, destroying publicly funded alternatives to corporate products, taking out the competition will teach those companies!' What you are saying is akin to saying that because McDonald's cooks a lot of food, any restaurant that cooks food must therefore be a McDonald's, and every local dive and eatery in the world should be held accountable for McDonald's actions. That does not make sense. What corporations do with the GMOs they develop is largely irrelevant to the merits of genetic engineering itself. You also neglect to consider Golden Rice, Rainbow Papaya, HoneySweet Plum, BioCassava, Super Sorghum, and all the other GMOs developed by universities and governments around the world (most of which don't have clever names yet so I won't list every single one I can think of). So, it's pretty disingenuous to say all GMOs are corporate in nature.

Personally I have no fear of GM in and of itself - it's simply a technology (e.g. that created a bacterial source of insulin in its early days) - my concerns are more to do with corporate control over the food chain. I know this sounds like rhetoric, but it isn't - simply witness the bizarre-ness of Monsanto trying to patent conventionally-reared melon seeds, the fact that seeds outside trade agreements become illegal to trade despite being well established varieties etc etc etc.

@GH - very few Greenpeace activists are paid - the only ones that are, are those who work in the national offices (which isn't many) - even then, they do direct action as volunteers. Professional campaigners/NGO workers within Greenpeace don't lose their jobs if their campaign ends - they get transferred to a different role - so, where's the motive for 'scare-mongering'?

My feeling here is that this one action is being used as an excuse for a bit of Greenpeace-bashing by those already opposed :) However, I was mildly amused by one comment - I'm pretty certain I've never heard anyone say (or paraphrase) 'Yeah, destroying publicly funded alternatives to corporate products, taking out the competition will teach those companies!' 'til now anyway.

BTW, Neil Craig seems to have gone strangely quiet - had a look at his blog - weird - but unsurprised to find he's a climate change sceptic. *bless*

@9 DaveH

Absolutely there are legitimate concerns about food security and the questionable practices of agribusiness, but destroying publicly-funded research projects does nothing to address this, as Michael Jones pointed out.

Greenpeace seem incapable of having a grown up debate about GM or a host of other environmental issues, they simply divide the world into good and bad technologies and bang their drums as loud as possible.

DeveH on #4 I point you to Madeleine's post which starts by blaming everything on wicked capitalists - or iondeed to DeveH #9 (presumably an entirely different person from DeveH #2 "who said they weren't anti-capitalist) saying " I have no fear of GM in and of itself ... my concerns are more to do with corporate control over the food chain" - another "environmentalist" who really doesn't care for the environment but merely uses it to promote anti-capitalist Luddism.

#5 Gtreenpeance most definitely makes money. They may not have sharegolders to pay but the corporate lawyers on their board expect to be paid. One of the reasons their founder, Patrick Moore quit was because they introduced a pension plan, presumably not paid in fairy dust, which showed that Greenpeacing was no longer a crusade against particular practices but a regular careerwhich would need an endless parade of "problems" to keep going.

#6 Before DDT banning world malaria deaths were down to 50,000 annually. They are now between 1 1/2 & 3 million. Over 50 years that one alone has killed more people than Hitler & Stalin combined.

Another good example DH and not one I had been thinking of at the time.

The reason the "environmentalists" can't have a grown up debate on GM is the same one for why they destroy scientific experiments - they know they spinning a false scare story that would fall before facts.

Those who have followed other recent "scienceblogs" discussions on warming (except on those sites that censor) will have seen this inability to do grown up in all its glory.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 29 Jul 2011 #permalink

Neil @ #11 - Sure GP are luddites, but let's be grown up about it and avoid fighting GP bullshit with anti-environment bullshit.

DDT is not, and never has been, banned for use in combating malaria. It is still widely used for controlling malaria in the third world, not because it's more effective than alternative insecticides, but because it's dirt cheap.

So if your 50k number is correct (which I highly doubt) then the explanation is NOT the banning of DDT for agricultural use in the western world.

Re Greenpeace staff having pension plans - well, duh - does anyone really expect them to work for nothing??? Thta implies no-one who has a career can do so ethically... Oh, and there are no corporate lawyers on the board.

GP = Luddites... had a look at any of the decentralised energy generation technologies it supports lately? Nope - well, they are some of the most advanced about (have a look at some of the co-generation etc in Germany, Scandinavia and others).

DDT = ongoing debate we're not involved in, so not sure how it popped up here. Neil, I don't suppose you're paid by AFM - you seem to love DDT so. There are all sorts of arguments pro/con DDT regarding human health, but tangled up in mosquito resistance, effects of DDT residues on humans etc etc. As for environmentalists being responsible for a ban on DDT, it's a perennial myth - it's not you that keeps resurrecting it is it? Anyhow, Greenpeace's page on it is here http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/about/greenpeace-ddt-and-malaria

BTW, I never mentioned whether or not I was anti-capitalist (or indeed whether I feel that's such a broad term as to be largely meaningless), so yup, must be two DaveH's. Probably there are even more.

Having had numerous grown-up debates on various environmental topics over quite a few years, both with and without a Greenpeace 'hat' on, I have to chuckle wrily when told that Greenpeace (and thus by extension I as a volunteer) am incapable of doing so. Weird. So I respond in kind and poke the silly self-promoting anti-greens with an organic leek.

Well Dave in post #2 your point 4 was that they specifically weren't anti-capitalist while in you post #9 you said that your opposition to GM was entirely anticapitalist - that you had "no fear" whatsoever that the scare stories would turn out to be true but supported them out of opposition to corporations.

On DDT it has since be3come unambiguously proven that DDT has never harned a single human being and indeed that even the claim that it thinned eggshells is extremely dubiuos. Nonetheless, as I showed, the anti-DDT campaign has killed on the or5der of 100 million people.

For that reason many Greems have tried to distance themselves from it. Despite one eco-Nazi (the term is clearly justified) saying, when told of the genocide "We need to get rid of some of them, and this is as good a way as any." There was not a formal worldwide bann because there is no organisation, not even the UN, with the authority to do so, but there was massive pressure to maintain a ban, including western legal bans of aid to any country that would not go along with it. This was al, obviously, done because of pressure from the "environmentalist" movement. So yes, in fact there was a ban and in fact it did kill that many.

"GP = Luddites... had a look at any of the decentralised energy generation technologies it supports lately?"

No I haven't but unless any of them involve working cold fusion, this does indeed sound like going backwards technologically, albeit with an antiseptic paint job. Perhaps you coould point out some which are not Luddite and really cutting edge. Perhaps you could even name some Green supported power generating system that is better at generatring commercial power than at generating subsidies .

Could you also state which of the 2 DaveH's, exprerssing wholly incompatible views, is answering.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 30 Jul 2011 #permalink

Sorry, crazy Neil, but the use (indeed re-use) of the eco-Nazi tag renders you not worth talking to further. Grow up and get a life.

As i said the term is clearly justified when discussing a movement that has deliberately killed far more than Hitler and Stalin put together.

If anyone can suggest another term which would be equally applicable in the circumstances I would be interested in seeing it.

DaveH #1 (anti-capitalist) I note your inability to debate. Does that apply to DaveH #2 (pro-capitalist)too?

By Neil Craiog (not verified) on 31 Jul 2011 #permalink

Greenpeace has been denied its 'charity status' in NZ ergo it is a business.

"natural cynic
July 28, 2011

For the other side of the crazy coin, see Neil Craig."

Uh, except Neil was 100% spot on. If you want crazy, look to DaveH and Madeleine Love.

"and the questionable practices of agribusiness"

There needs to be a Godwin's Law for this, whereby anybody who needs to fall back on baseless, scaremongering buzzwords like "AgriBusiness" and "Factory farms" automatically lose the debate. I'm looking at you, DaveH.

By Greepeace Is A… (not verified) on 04 May 2013 #permalink