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GMOs and Global Warming: Whose Science Is It Anyway?

Jack Stephens, Librarian, Science, Technology & Patents Department,
GMO Tomatoes

The threat of global warming vs. the safety of food biotechnology: Which enjoys greater support from international scientific bodies? The Science Department has available many recent books by impassioned defenders and detractors on both sides of both of these debates. And it is fascinating to note that the most passionate defenders of one thesis  and often of the need to respect scientific opinion itself  are often the most passionate detractors of the other, and vice versa.

In his 2007 book on the threat of global warming, Hell and High Water, MIT-trained physicist Joseph Romm cites as authorities the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a 2005 joint statement by the national science academies of the United States, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom urging the nations of the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among several others.

In the area of food biotechnology, Wellesley College political scientist Robert Paarlberg, in his 2008 book on the status of food biotechnology in Africa, Starved for Science, cites statements asserting the safety and value of genetically modified foods from the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the British Royal Society, the British Medical Association, the French Academy of Medicine, and the European Commission's Research Directorate-General, among others.

Books claiming the authority of science to warn of the threat of human-caused global warming in the Science, Technology & Patents Department sit unhappily together in the same call number section (551.59) with books claiming the authority of science to deny this same threat.

The overwhelming majority of books brought in by the Science Department on the subject of global warming adhere to the views expressed by prominent world scientific bodies as to the nature and threat of global warming. Recent books in the Science Department's collections devoted to challenging this broad scientific consensus include:

By contrast, the majority of books on the subject of genetically modified foods in the Science Department present arguments for and against their safety and value side by side. A much greater percentage of the books on genetically modified foods owned by the Science Department challenge the scientific consensus that they are safe:

In fact, books explicitly defending genetically modified foods are relatively difficult to find in the Science Department's collections. Several recent ones are:

It is interesting that the most impassioned defenders of the science of global warming  and often of the need to respect scientific opinion itself  tend also to be among the strongest detractors of the safety of genetically modified foods. Prominent environmental groups such as Greenpeace USA, the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists actively seek to raise awareness both of the threat of global warming, and of the threat of genetically modified foods. Many books in the Science Department devoted to "sustainable living" warn against both.

On the other hand, the American family pulling their large sedan or SUV into a fast food drive-thru appears not to give too much thought to the threat of either global warming or genetically modified foods.


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