In 2014, Colorado voters considered a proposition to label genetically modified foods where they were sold.
Sixty-five percent said “no,” a crushing defeat for a progressive initiative in a purple state.
In the run-up, one Colorado newspaper editorial board weighed the question. Its members had loosely assumed they might support the measure – better safe than sorry, right? And there was an awful lot of talk about ag giants such as Monsanto being up to no good.
But then a funny thing happened. One member asked, “How do we know GMOs are dangerous?” So they Googled and researched and reconvened – and unanimously voted to oppose Proposition 105. There was no evidence GMOs posed a threat to consumers.
The paper’s ownership got wind of the decision and said it was wrong. It would offend too many progressive consumers. So they decreed that the “no” endorsement be preceded by a separate “yes” endorsement.
Five years ago, GMOs were that big a shibboleth. Now, we are hailing lab-grown meat. Abe Greenwald, writing in Commentary recently, says GMOs were a groundless panic – and the slow death is welcome.
“This is an amazing – and rare – triumph of reason and science over public hysteria and political posturing,” he writes.
The gap between the claims and the evidence was too great to sustain, he says. But Greenwald, a senior editor at the magazine, does not stop there:
“For those of us who believe that warnings of a ruinous climate crisis are at least overblown, the fading of the American anti-GMO movement is somewhat heartening. GMO hysteria and climate alarmism are similar in a number of ways. They’re issues that allow activists to broadcast their virtue and pose as saviors of the planet. They both fit nicely into an anti-American, anti-capitalist framework. And they’re both fueled by emotion instead of reason.”
Here, we demur. Evidence of a warming climate is not a matter of emotion. We can tell you dispassionately that temperatures in Utqiagvik, America’s northernmost town, hit 73 degrees recently, a record bolstered by melting sea ice, and that someone ought to do something if they can. That does not seem un-American. It is pro-Earth. Surely, the two can be reconciled. The political problem is not whether we should do something – we already can see markets moving away from coal and to renewables, for example – but who should do what and how.
Almost every one of the Democratic presidential candidates is pledging to do more than President Obama did, while President Trump tries to roll that too-little back. Voters will have a clear choice on climate as one of several issues in 2020.
Yet, Greenwald raises a good question: Have we exaggerated the threat of warming? There is no fact-checker for this. Any reasonable optimist has to hope we have, and we have our record of political error, including with GMOs, for comfort. Yet, there is little comfort to be had.
Claims that Earth will be uninhabitable for much of life as we know it by 2030 if we do not do something drastic, something we are not all even sure how to do, may be exaggerated; it is certainly possible. But, the likelihood that we need to do nothing about climate change if we hope to survive still seems small. If that is a 10% chance instead of a 1% chance, it is still, basically, false hope.
If we set the date for ruin at 2035 or 2040, it is like hitting a snooze button. Those minutes are never enough because you know, sooner or later, you will have to face another day of freak storms that you will have to stop calling freaks, and starving polar bears wandering through Siberian cities, waiting for it all to come slouching home.
This time, we are wagering better safe than sorry.