On Tuesday night Greg Bourne (CEO of WWF Australia) told a crowd at the Brisbane Institute that WWF was a progressive organization essentially because WWF believed in climate change and wanted to do something about it.
I am not sure that I can agree with this definition of ‘progressive’. Take the case of WWF and GM food crops. WWF has actively campaigned against GM. Yet this new innovative technology gives farmers the potential to increase or maintain yields while using less pesticide, less water, less land – a reduced ecological footprint for more food.
For example, the 90 per cent of Australian cotton growers who how plant the latest GM varieties use on average 80-90 per cent less insecticide while maintaining yields. New GM wheat varieties being developed in SA could produce more grain under much drier conditions – an important consideration if we accept some climate change scenarios.
After the lecture, I introduced myself to Bourne. In the course of the conversation he called me a luddite because I am skeptical about some of the ‘science’ underpinning IPCC climate change modeling.
This is interesting because I accept atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing dramatically and something should be done about this.
What I don’t accept is many of their solutions for reducing emissions – I don’t consider them particularly effective, let alone progressive.
For example, Bourne suggested that it is OK for China to keep building old-technology, coal-fired power stations because the priority in China is “pulling people out of poverty, not climate change”.
According to Bourne, Australia is different. We already enjoy a reasonable standard of living therefore “the driver” should be the environment and we should oppose coal fired power stations.
This seems a totally discriminatory approach to a global environmental problem. And in the same breath Bourne suggested that communities can’t enjoy a reasonable standard of living if they don’t also look after their environment.
For some time I have remarked that if environmentalism is to deliver tangible environmental benefits, it will need to change. In my view environmentlism needs to be redefined in accordance with how natural systems actually operate and to embrace, rather than reject, technological innovation.
Much of my work has been dismissed by self proclaimed ‘progressive environmentalists’ on the basis that I work for the IPA and am therefore conservative and wrong. But I consider myself a social (as well as environmental) progressive.
Furthermore the IPA seems to have been one of the few organisations in Australia prepared to promote open discussion by providing a counterpoint on important environmental issues. On Line Opinion was also quick to publish my alternative perspective on the basis there is a need for real debate on these issues.
I hope that through this new blog (that I start with some trepidation) real debate on real environmental issues can be further faciliated. I am interested somewhat by what motivates people, but my real interest is in the facts-of-the-matter and how policies and systems can be put in place that will deliver real environmental protection and benefit both nationally and globally.
I agree with Bourne that change starts with the empowerment of individuals who want to make a difference – who want to be progressive.
But what does it really mean to be a progressive environmentalist?
If you really care about the environment should you buy GM food or organic food? Should we support China to “pull its people out of poverty” even if this means many more old-style, coal-fired power stations – or is there a better way?