GMOs can bring Owen Paterson and George Monbiot together

Has our esteemed Secretary of State for the Environment Owen Paterson been reading George Monbiot’s new book Feral, where he rewilds himself in order to attain an enlightened state that reveals a vision of a rewilded future?

For me this conjures an image of O-Patz wrestling a mullet to the ground and ripping its gills out with his bare teeth while wrestling mentally with the need to feed the world and save nature all at the same time. There are dark recesses of my mind where it is best for me not to venture too often.  Regular readers will understand this and skip over the (ir) relevant bits.

The reason for these random musings is that yesterday, in a heartfelt speech to a carefully selected audience of pro-GM agribusiness executives and the biotech-agriculture-industrial complex, Paterson laid bare his heart on the need for the UK and Europe to adopt, with extreme enthusiasm, GMO technology. Paterson was on a mission to persuade the GM-denialists that this is the future and if it isn’t adopted we will slip into a new dark age of hunger and misery.

Not only will they feed the world, but GMOs are actually much better for the environment than conventional crops, according to O-Patz, and of course this is the official Defra and Government position.

I was slightly staggered to read that he had proclaimed

“Even more excitingly, if we use cultivated land more efficiently, we could free up space for biodiversity, nature and wilderness. Something I know a number of commentators have been calling for. Research undertaken by a team at Rockefeller University has found that over the course of the next 50 years new technology, combined with improved agricultural practices across the world, could release an area 2.5 times the size of France from cultivation.”

Now setting aside his unusual use of the “Size of France”  unit instead of the usual “Size of Wales” unit (has he something against Wales or is this a friendly overture to our continental neighbours – I digress) his argument is an extraordinary one – and I can only assume he has read Monbiot’s book and has been caught in the re-wilding zeal and is desperate to find a way to make space for re-wilding even in the most intensively managed landscapes.

Imagine the scene 50 years hence. East Anglia has moved wholesale into GM crop production, especially useful as salt-tolerance has enabled soya bean production (on which we now all depend for nutrition, alongside industrially produced grasshoppers) to continue regardless of the regular incursions from the sea. Production output has soared and as a result all farming enterprises across the region have agreed amongst themselves to pay 20% of their profits into a fund to purchase and manage the new fen wilderness area, which covers 200,000ha of Cambridgeshire and is managed by the Royal Society for the Promotion of Wilderness and Trust.

Here lions and elephants are the keystone mammals and have settled in very nicely since they were introduced 20 years previously. Hippos play an important role in maintaining the wetland ecosystems that have re-naturalised from former intensive agricultural land. Badgers are on the edge of extinction, having been eaten by the lions.

I look forward to seeing the joint press conference between George and O-Patz where they announce their shared vision. I’m sure they’ll get along just fine.

Or alternatively it could all look like this:

plastic fields

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About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in climate change, farming, George Monbiot, GMOs, Owen Paterson, rewilding and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to GMOs can bring Owen Paterson and George Monbiot together

  1. milesking10 says:

    Valuable Comments from Ginny Batson via Twitter:
    one of the questions at St George’s (see addendum) http://saveourwoods.co.uk/articles/sustainable-land-management/feral-george-monbiot/

    I think there is a genuine belief by Monbiot and others (I include myself) you could free up land for biodiversity simply by reducing consumption of meat, because so much ag land goes to feed. I don’t know whether there are statistics to analyse?

    (MK) in theory yes. But who decides how the land is used (re-wilding is a land-use)? Land not growing cereals to feed to cattle could be planted with biofuel crops, timber, for housing, motocross etc or be re-wilded. Who would choose/pay for rewilding?

    (GB) yes, motocross… ew. Maybe rewilded land designated leisure too. 😉 Anthropocentric arguments, even Monbiot tbh. Why?…biocentric argument certainly with self-willed land, non-human life has intrinsic value, & beyond.. a right to exist & evolve. We can’t just do it because we ‘love’ nature (as Monbiot suggested at his talk). People can fall in and out of love. So we do it, ethically, because non-human life has intrinsic ‘right’ to have more room than we currently allow….but reintros of large ungulates and predators ethically similar to the reintroduction of red kites. Scale being the difference.

  2. milesking10 says:

    I do have problems with the concept of self-willed land Ginny. I don’t personally believe land has a will, though I do believe it has a wide range of values. Land also does what it does, depending on the interactions between air soil water the biosphere and us. We ie humans now know we have an impact on every square (indeed cubic) inch of the planets surface and atmosphere, whether we intend it or not. This includes CO2 in the atmosphere, PCBs in polar bear fat, or Nitrogen deposition in the wild corners of Europe. So in that sense we cannot avoid preventing land from acting outside human influence, or being self-willed if you like. Isn’t the act of introducing an extinct animal operating against the notion of self-willed land. What about the will of the animal being reintroduced without considering it’s preferences?

  3. seasonalight says:

    Thanks Miles. The will of the land (or life), is the green fuse of all life. With or without humans, right now, life would continue to adapt and evolve, so I would argue in that sense that the land (in all its complexity) does indeed have a will. Yes, we are integral to nature, not separate, and with our will & understanding of environmental science, the state of environmental decline and our union with the land, it’s exactly why we should not dominate. That doesn’t mean to say we have to spare and NOT share (purported by GM’ers). It means we can spare (make space) AND share (agroecology). We have a duty (because of the intrinsic value of all life of which we are a part) to make conscious decisions that will have positive consequences on, say, climate and biodiversity as well as social justice, welfare (inc non-human life)…etc.

    Modern conservation in the West has been influenced by the work of Pinchot (neat summary http://www.ithaca.edu/history/journal/papers/sp02muirpinchothetchy.html) although both Muir and Pinchot were essentially anthropocentric in argument. Muir for human soul, Pinchot, essentially, for humans as consumers. Problems on both sides! And so, here we are, the Planet is now seriously Under Pressure despite their influence. There is good reason to look at a more ecocentric or biocentric outlook whereby non-human life is viewed as having a value all unto itself. Nature for nature’s sake, as well as ours.

    On re-introductions, to be honest, I’m still grappling with the ethics of it all…. ‘by human hand.’ But it certainly seeds the imagination of what ‘could be’ as opposed to ‘what is’.

  4. Pingback: Growing inequality on David Cameron’s watch: Some reflections – John Gelmini « Dr Alf's Blog

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