Mark Lynas and the GMO Debate

Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek and find more of his writing on The Huffington Post.  Here’s Mark’s comments on the wonderful address that Mark Lynas gave at the recent Oxford farming conference.

Until a few days ago, the name Mark Lynas was little known outside the environmental community. An effective campaigner, Lynas has also written several well-received books, including Six Degrees and The God Species. He also has a knack for the dramatic, such as throwing a pie in the face of Danish political scientist and environmental skeptic Bjorn Lomborg.Through all this, Lynas had achieved some success but was far from a household name. That may be about to change.Last Thursday, Lynas gave a speech at a conference on farming at Oxford University. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Bloggers blogged, tweeters tweeted and Lynas’s own website crashed under the onslaught.Had Lynas revealed some dramatic discovery, or unveiled a path-breaking new campaign? No, he simply stated, in measured and scientific terms, that he had changed his mind.Lynas had been a leading voice against using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in farming. He was also sounding the alarm over climate change, and had immersed himself in climate science. When he belatedly did the same with GMOs, he found that a careful reading of the scientific evidence revealed that his previous opposition was untenable. At Oxford Lynas said he was, in a word, sorry.It is a measure of the sorry state of many environmental debates that such a calm statement before a polite audience of academics would cause such a ruckus. This is not the place to debate the merits of Lynas’s new position on GMOs, though I largely but not entirely agree with it. Lynas says at the end of his speech that “the GM debate is over.” That may overstate the case; the real importance of Lynas’s speech is that it in fact allows the debate to begin.

(…) Since I have become CEO of The Nature Conservancy I have learned that it is our passion and the passion of our supporters that make us effective. But sometimes that passion can be our undoing. So many of us, and others who are not associated with The Nature Conservancy or conservation want the same thing—we want healthy lands, water and air, and we want wild places in which we can find inspiration. But we come to this vision of what we want with different values and beliefs. GMOs are one of those issues that expose the differences in our beliefs. Some of us are inherently optimistic about technology, and others distrust technology. GMOs embody that debate.