Meacher the preacher

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
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Crackpots declaring that ‘the end of the world is nigh’ are nothing new. But that notion is no longer the preserve of religious zealots or sci-fi fantasists. It now seems to be the position of a government minister -Michael Meacher. And the weapons of mass destruction that Mr Meacher is most worried about are you and I.

While attention has focused elsewhere, the Environment Minister appears to have launched an evangelical mission, preaching that we are in danger of destroying our world through the advance of science and new technologies.

In a speech last week he speculated that man-made global warming could ‘make our planet uninhabitable’. ‘We are the virus’ infecting the Earth’s body, he said, concluding that ‘this is the first time that a species has been at risk of generating its own demise’. In an interview to be published today in the Ecologist magazine, Meacher says that genetically modified (GM) crop technology could pose ‘totally unpredicted problems’.

There is talk of Meacher resigning because of his isolation within the Government. His recent statements certainly read like a suicide note for our species, never mind for his career. Yet far from being, as he has previously suggested, ‘a lone voice in the wilderness’, the ‘very, very cautious’ Mr Meacher speaks for a powerful current of very, very cautious opinion today. Its views are a man made virus that, allowed to go unchecked, could prove more destructive of civilised society than any foreign terrorist.

Take the question of GM technologies, now back in the news as the Government tries to sponsor a wider debate. Although Britain’s controversial field-scale trials are supposed to be investigating the impact of GM crops on insects, slugs, snails, weeds and the like, this issue has never really been about those things. It is about humanity, and how far we aspire to rise above that which crawls upon the earth.

Meacher puts the case for an, err, sluggish approach to human progress in his Ecologist interview. Arguing that, for the past quarter million years, ‘we have been feeding ourselves perfectly adequately since overcoming problems of hunger in our early existence’, he concludes ‘GM is not necessary’. Which, indeed, it is not. By the same token, of course, steam engines, electric lights, aircraft, television and the internet were ‘not necessary’ for us to carry on ‘feeding ourselves perfectly adequately’ in our cosy caves and hovels.

Not satisfied with lowering our expectations of scientific and social progress, the fashionable doctrine espoused by Meacher the preacher also threatens to degrade democracy. In his interview, he implies that his colleague, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Under Secretary for Science and Innovation, cannot be trusted to be objective about GM since he has links with the biotech industries (that is, he knows something about the stuff). Yet Meacher and his allies have been keen to subject policy on GM to the influence of other unelected, unaccountable interests -the environmental and consumer lobby groups.

The director of one anti-GM group, GeneWatch, recently expressed the hope that new Labour’s openness to consulting such organisations might ‘change the way we do democracy’. Indeed it might ‘do democracy’ altogether, by giving the casting vote to parasitical eco-groups.

What motivates the Meacherites (like just about every protest movement today) is the obsession with avoiding risk. It remains to be seen whether the Government will stand up to them. Let us hope this is a battle Tony Blair is prepared to fight with the determination he seems to reserve for foreign fields.

If the doom-mongers get their way, the end of the world will not be nigh, but it might just feel as though it is.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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