Environmentalists urged to argue case for technology in agriculture


Former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson has joined forces with high-profile environmentalists to promote ‘eco-modernism’, the idea that science and technology hold the key to enhancing the world’s natural environment.

Paterson once again attacked the ‘green blob’ of environmental groups who he blames for turning Europe into a ‘museum for agriculture’ denied of important new technologies. They were joined by Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at the US Cornell University and agriculture and Ted Nordhaus, from the Breakthrough Institute in California, who are in the UK to promote the Eco-modernist manifesto.

The idea is a simple one – that by maximising production on the best land available through high-tech agriculture, there will be more room for nature to thrive on the remainder of the world’s land.

A direct retort to those who claim organic farming and agro-ecology are the route to a healthy global environment, eco-modernism advocates the use of GM technology, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and increased mechanism in farming as the answer to freeing up nature’s resources.

“The key idea behind Ecomodernism is that the more technology human beings adopt, the more they can decouple from dependence on the natural environment and live lives that are prosperous but green,” said Paterson.

Technological improvements in agriculture over the past 50 years have meant the amount of land required for growing crops and animal feed for the average person had declined by a half. This has resulted in re-forestation in parts of the ‘rich world’.

Currently nearly a quarter of the earth’s land is used for pasture to graze livestock, 12% for crops, 9% for wood, while cities cover just 3%. This currently leaves more than 50% for nature. But with many species currently endangered by loss of habitat, the goal must be to further reduce the land needed for agriculture and energy by boosting production.

“We save nature by not using it, by leaving it alone,” said Shellenberger. “We use about half of the earth. With more people living in cities and more intensive agriculture – far less land use for meat, crops and wood – can we leave 75 per cent to nature? Yes, I think we can because we have done it before.”

Lynas claimed Monsanto, the focus for many years of the anti-GM movement, was ‘probably an environmental net positive for the world’. He added, with its GM corn and cotton crops, the US biotech giant has “likely done more than the entire organic movement to reduce insecticide use and without the trade-off in lost productivity”, he said.

Yet saying anything positive about companies like Monsanto was “great and utter taboo in green movement circles”.

Lynas, who shot to prominence when he announced he had changed his stance on GM crops in 2013, insisted eco-modernism was not a rejection of traditional environmentalism but was “an attempt to recognise its limitations and move beyond it”.

“Technology is not a dirty word. It is what sets us apart from other species,” he commented. “If the world switched to organic low-yield agriculture, I think we would clearly pay the price in lost rain forests.”

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