The Left Must Find Its Way Back to Science

With President Trump committing himself to reversing most, if not all, of Obama’s progressive environmental policies and having pulled out of the Paris Accords, I think it is imperative that the Left take a fresh, evidence-based look at their boogeymen. The Right may have their climate change and evolution denial, but the Left holds onto their fears of GMOs, conventional agriculture, and nuclear power as if they were afraid to lose them. The civilizational knife-edge we find ourselves atop of, as well the pushing and shoving Trump is adding, demands that the Left right their wrongs. Apparently, the Left is the party of science, and while that has always been a stretch, there’s no better time to make it so.

With the departure of the world’s second largest emitter from the first worldwide accord that attempted to limit climate change to within 2 degrees Celsius above baseline, that means that the rest of the world has to pull up its sleeves to compensate. To get started there are some some low-hanging fruit, and there’s no lower-hanging fruit than to re-evaluate that which is already here and doesn’t require large investments or are far off in the future. I propose we start with the following three sacred cows of the Left, as they have large benefits to climate change avoidance.

#1: Nuclear Power

Yes, we should go full steam ahead on solar power, wind power, and other renewables, and yes, we should combine the above, when possible, with battery power to provide power at times when the Sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. However, that does not mean we should throw all our buckets in with just those fancy new stuff. All carbon-free power sources should be on the table to get us all the faster to where we need to go. Nuclear, therefore, must be on the table.

This still goes even if you wholeheartedly believe that we can solve our energy problems with only solar, wind, geothermal, and batteries. There must be a backup plan. Without a backup plan, if, or perhaps it is safer to say when, things go wrong, that back-up will instead fall back to a carbon-positive energy source such as natural gas or coal. Indeed, that may be the most depressing point against the environmental movement of the late 20th century: that their fierce anti-Nuclear agenda forced societies around the world to revert back to and/or ramp up coal use. In other words, without the environmental movement being anti-nuclear from the get go, climate change may not be the behemoth today! (If that doesn’t gut-punch you…)

In the real world, free of ideological purity, and with an embrace of the messiness of reality in which all our plans don’t perfectly come into fruition like they do in the dreams of activists, it is simply common-sense to pursue multiple avenues towards success. Better to have it and not need it, then need it and default to coal, as we have done in the past (and Japan is doing now). Let’s default to carbon-free nuclear instead, while still putting as many of our eggs into the renewables we know will make up much of the future. The messy side-effects of nuclear power are manageable, and none of them involve hundreds of millions of climate refugees, resource conflicts, or global food shortages.

#2: GMOs

All the fear-mongering of the last two decades has not led to one prediction that has borne out to be true: cancer’s are not on the rise (quite the opposite); the obesity and diabetes crisis can be laid solely at the feet of the overconsumption of sugar and food in general. GMOs have made food cheaper, more abundant, less resource intensive, require less carbon, enhanced mineral and vitamin content in food (take a look at processed foods that replace GMOs ingredients with non-GMO ingredients), and helped soil quality. It’s not all roses, however, but on balance, taking a rational look at the evidence, they have had positive effects.

These benefits have increased the soil’s capacity to hold and store carbon, reduced insecticide use, replaced dangerous herbicides with milder ones, and will soon explicitly increase yield (current GMOs tend to cut crop losses so it is a benefit in that regard).

Agriculture accounts for 24% of the carbon output of the world economy, somewhere around half of which come from the animals we slaughter for meat, and the other half, the machinations of conventional agriculture and forestry loss. Any decrease in the efficiency, yield, pesticide use etc, will have manifold positive effects on the economy’s effect on the climate.

The biggest achievements in the developed economies of the world, which will hopefully soon make it’s way to the rest of the world, is the beginning of the decoupling of growth from carbon emissions. In the last half-decade or so, the economy has grown while emissions have remained flat. While there are many reasons why that may be temporary in the age of Trump (coal plants subsidies for example), GMOs have the potential to bring about that state of positive change of decoupling of carbon emissions to feeding the planet. They have the potential to robustly increase yield while keeping inputs the same, and perhaps in the future, reduce them. The result, more food with fewer inputs, therefore, lesser effects on the climate. Bonuses: cheaper food, healthier foods, longer-lasting foods etc. Perhaps the biggest benefit will be the intensification of agriculture to fewer acres, allowing those extra acres to be returned to nature and act as carbon sinks.

The contempt for GMOs has to end, plain and simple.

#3: Conventional Agriculture

Lefties love to hate on conventional agriculture, and back when I was a tow-the-line Lefty, I did too. I may still be a soft-nosed Leftie, but now I only use my ideology on matters of principle and as a moral/ethical value system vis-a-vis how society should ideally be structured to help the most people with the least disruption and/or loss of freedom to all. On matters of evidence, my ideology cedes to irrelevance, and if we are to survive the age of Trump and far-right populism, so it must be so for Lefties everywhere (if they are indeed the more rational).

Here’s the thing about conventional agriculture. Is it ideal? No, but we’re stuck with somewhere north of 7 billion people for a while, rising to about 9 billion by 2050, and to top it all off, the living standards of 2050 will need twice as much food as we are able to produce now using basically all the arable land in the entire world (some 38% of the ice-free landmass), so we must make do with what we have.

Anything at all that increases that footprint is an environmental detriment, and simultaneously anything we do to reduce it is an environmental benefit. By this fact alone, we have no choice but to intensify agricultural development. Converting any percentage to organic farmland will increase that footprint, phasing out GMOs will increase that footprint, withholding pesticides and farm equipment from farmers in the developing world will increase that footprint. Increasing that footprint is the one thing we must not do!

Conventional agriculture, as opposed to organic agriculture, helps us towards that end. In his 2010 book Abundance, Peter Diamandis estimates that if we replaced conventional agriculture with organic agriculture, we’d have to farm something like 83% of the ice-free landmass of the Earth. At the current 38%, we are already using all the arable land; there’s just not much good, arable soil left, which means, that that extra land would have to come from cutting down half the rainforests and jungles of the world — yes, half of all of them…yeah, I’ll take conventional agriculture, thank you very much.

It has also been shown again and again, in meta-review after meta-review, that organic food has little to no nutritional benefit over conventionally made food, yet, due to the extra land requirements, actually leaves the environment worse off. (Environmentally worse in the sense that it requires much more land, which would otherwise be left to nature. Organic may be gentler on the land it cultivates, but any such benefit is completely overwhelmed by the fact that that land could be free to nature, which is of far greater benefit to the environment, then any small per-unit gain by going organic over conventional.) This is simply a state of being that we can no longer afford to ideologically paper over. Organic is not better for the environment when taken as a whole.

If you’re an organic foodie, perhaps another talking point to help convince you is that climate change is changing weather patterns around the world. Spring is coming sooner, winters are getting colder, dry environments are getting drier among many other not-so-nice side-effects of changing weather patterns. Organic agriculture is the form of agriculture that is the least likely to survive such trials and tribulations, for the simple reason that it relies mainly on natural systems to cultivate the fields and crops, and slower methods of crop breeding to overcome short-term difficulties such as pests, aridification, and weather changes. Almost all available means of selection to produce the hardiest crops are off-limits to the advancement of organic cultivars and new varieties. That means as the weather effects of climate change become more pronounced, more and more conventional ag and genetic engineering will have to be used to extract enough food out of the ground to compensate for said crop loss because people don’t like to starve. One way or the other, it seems, organic ag will probably go the way of the dodo. (That’s not to mention that organic farming launders its nitrogen use through conventional agriculture’s factory farming model. To put it in layman’s terms: without conventional agriculture, there wouldn’t be enough fertilizer to grow all of todays organic produce, let alone instigate any growth for the future. Organic farming simply cannot exist without a much larger share of conventional farming in order to provide the necessary nitrogen, and therefore, there will be no large-scale switch to organic farming as many folks dream of.)

Conclusion

The Left has been left with no choice, and it can no longer persist in delusion on those subjects. The Right, in America and much of the world, is abdicating the evidence of reality to pursue their own delusions. To top that off, it seems they learned that Jedi mind trick from the post-modernism and relativism of the Left, therefore, it is up to the Left to reclaim the spirit of the enlightenment and reason. Russian Roulette is no fun with 5 of the 6 barrels fully loaded. It’s time for the Left to realize the mistake they’ve made, accept the evidence of reality, and start taking steps so that we may leave a better environment for our kids.

I buy and eat GMOs, I avoid organic and non-GMOs products, I support nuclear energy as a tool in the toolbox for mitigating climate change while still bringing the modernizing benefits of electricity to the world far and wide, and I do these things because they are environmentally better, and I hope you will too. In the age of Trump, it’s science or bust.

If you find that your mental roadblocks continuously throw up emotional obstacles to your rational inquiry and self-reflection, remember this: there is no better way to respond to Trump.

7 thoughts on “The Left Must Find Its Way Back to Science”

  1. Reblogged this on Primate's Progress and commented:
    And I would add, in the UK, unreasoning rejection of fracking (even by those who support of-shore oil production) to the environmentally damaging Left presuppositions that urgently need replacement by rational discussion.

  2. I tried investigating the Labour Party Science group but was looking for actions/events/discussions which applied to all levels from flyer stuffers to cabinet members and was not very encouraged. Do you know of a universally friendly entry point?

    Thanks for your contribution to Humanists4Science on Facebook
    Science blog to be published shortly

  3. It’s true that people on the political left tend to distrust big business. We might ask, what proportion of the studies you rely on here were underwritten by people or firms that benefit financially from wide use of the technologies in question? We remember the studies demonstrating that cigarette smoking is harmless, and those that have totally confused the American public about anthropogenic climate change and its consequences.

    1. Ted Cloak, according to a study in Nature Biotech, 58% of studies didn’t have any conflicts of interest on GE/GM research. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/d3/d1/58/d3d1580db6240cced57049632d3fa48d.jpg
      And according to GENERA, the GMO safety studies are mainly done by government-funded research. And the results are still pretty consistent regardless of the funding source. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/5f/c0/c8/5fc0c8b474fb55502a8c79df062f1f18.jpg

  4. I’m a scientist in the agricultural field, and there is nothing more insufferable than someone telling people that the agriculture that feeds them daily is bad. We’ve gotten so good at growing food that people now have the luxury of bitching about it from a place of complete ignorance. It wasn’t that long ago that food shortages were common, or that certain foods were prohibitively expensive unless you grew them yourself.

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