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Rafaela Hillerbrand’s Posts

Lights out! For our Climate! For what else?

Last Saturday, people in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were asked to switch off the lights for five minutes between 20.00 and 20.05. “Lights out! For our Climate!” was the motto. Similarly, on February 1 this year –  the day of the publication of the latest scientific report of the IPCC – people all over the world followed a call of a French initiative to turn off the lights for five minutes. The recent call to arms was widely supported by the German-speaking media, including the internet portal Google.

Luckily, not too many people followed the call. Luckily, not because I want to doubt that present forecasts on the future climate provide a need to worry –  they clearly do! But had 10,000 homes participated in the campaign, then it is likely that the the Power supply system would have broken down – in all of Europe. Hopefully the worries of the power generators will have been heard the other side of the Pond, when the campaign “Lights out in America" calls for a similarly rash reaction to global warming in March 2008.

These campaigns do not seem to be the only hasty reaction to global warming.

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Unjustified asymmetries in the debate on GM crops

In his valedictory speech as Government’s chief scientific adviser on November 27th , David King said there was a "moral case" for the UK and the rest of  Europe to grow genetically modified crops as the technology could help the world’s poorest.

A research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences only one day after encourages this hope that GM crops might offer a solution to word poverty. New drought-tolerant plants are reported to grow with only one third of the usual water.

Nonetheless, antagonists of GM continue to point to the possibly severe side effects of the release of GM crops outside the lab. These unintended side effects might indeed outweigh the benefits, albeit such secondary effects seem very unlikely. But the keypoint overlooked in these debates is that the uncertainty is not only on the side of the harms from GM. The benefits of GM may also be unlikely to be realised – though not on scientific grounds. Overlooking these uncertainties raises an untenable asymmetry as the debate seems to suggest that the benefits are opposed by highly unlikely risks. This stands in the way of a rational evaluation of the use of GM crops.

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