There is conventional wisdom that genetic engineering will tremendously affect life in the 21st century. This technology, in fact, carries implications and impacts that are unprecedented in human history. It will permeate more and more aspects of human life, from reproduction and the cure of diseases, to solutions for the environment, to name but a few. Yet genetic engineering does not only comprise benefits, such as the opportunity to combat incurable illnesses, but also threats that, perhaps with the exception of nuclear energy, are unparalleled within today's society.
This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say that some on the left are "anti-science." The article goes on to cite several examples of genetically modified plants that proved harmful when consumed or spread inappropriately in the wild. That these things happened is not in dispute. Their significance implies three things:
- We need to continue to do the sorts of experiments that discover these problems to prevent them in the future.
- We need a robust international regulation system to prevent hasty release of bioengineered organisms into the wild.
- We need to not use the specific GM crops mentioned in the article.
Naturally, the authors raise the specter of "nuclear energy" as the most dangerous threat to society and the environment. Are they kidding? I am opposed to nuclear energy for environmental reasons, but the idea that it is more dangerous than the amount of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere, or the potential destruction of ozone, or even the degradation of soil and destruction of rainforests is a dramatic distortion of reality. It is a buzzword; everyone knows that "nuclear energy" is a big bad thing so if we compare genetic engineering to it people will fear that, too.
The danger of genetically-modified organisms comes from the corporations that control them and who will always seek the modifications that can maximize profit rather than those which can maximize benefits to the world.
We revere nature for its wonder, but in truth natural selection is a poor designer. This is because there is no design: all of the beauty and marvel of the natural world is the result of countless miniscule mistakes and errors in reproduction, some of which happened to benefit the organism through sheer serendipity. However, these mistakes and errors have given rise to an organism that, finally, is capable of applying intelligence to nature itself and making stronger, better, and more viable organisms to fit the needs of a world that is ever-changing.
The environment, in the short term (the next century or two, a geological eyeblink), is going to get worse, not better. I wish it could be otherwise, but we have already reached the point of no return. Everything we do from this point forward is damage control, lessening the impact but not yet reversing it. We are in the middle of a mass extinction on a scale previously reserved for natural catastrophe.
Nature can't work fast enough to save itself. We can, if we don't kill ourselves in the process. Be an optimist.