George Monbiot is throwing a twitter fit, claiming that I’ve used a quote of his out of context in my current Slate piece. He’s asserting that I’ve conflated his repudiation of anti-nuclear greens with a repudiation of anti-GMO greens. I disagree and have told him so. He also seems to think that I’ve done this in bad faith–that I’m somehow deliberately misrepresenting him.
Now, as I’ve just said, I don’t agree. If you read the full paragraph where his quote appears, it is in the context of a larger argument I make–of the environmental movement exaggerating legitimate environmental concerns. That is the argument Monbiot has repeatedly, forcefully, and accurately made– with respect to nuclear power. I’m just using it as one example, to make a larger argument about green fear-mongering.
However, to prove to Monbiot that there was nothing nefarious intended about my use of him, here is the original graph of mine, before it got cut back in the final edit. As I’ve already said in an email to my editor, I agree with her edit that shortened the graph. I don’t take issue with that. I’m merely laying out the original graph here for Monbiot to see. So what follows is the set-up graph (which appears as is in the piece), and then my original graph, before it got shortened in the final version):
Without subtly stoking ignorant fears about GM food, there would be no way to mobilize the fight against Monsanto and what it stands for. Pollan thinks that Prop 37 is “something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda.” But capitalizing on irrational fear isn’t a good long-term political strategy. People eventually tune out or start to question your credibility, which is what has happened to the environmental movement. Decades of catastrophic predictions about even legitimate ecological threats has cost greens environmentalists much of the political capital they accrued in the 1960s and 1970s and lost them the support of one-time enthusiasts.
A case study in how not to overplay the fear card is green opposition to nuclear power. In recent years, George Monbiot, one of the UK’s most prominent environmental writers, recently has written a series of columns castigating greens for exaggerating the risks of nuclear power and inflating the toll wrought by the disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Overall, the claims of anti-nuclear campaigners “are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged, and wildly wrong,” he wrote in one piece. In another, he accused greens of spreading “as much mumbo-jumbo as creationists, anti-vaccine scaremongers, homeopaths and climate change deniers.” (I made a similar argument in Slate with respect to the GMO issue.) With climate change bearing down on humanity and nuclear power (which burns no fossil fuels) effectively demonized by greens, Monbiot has concluded that “the environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet’s living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved.”
One could argue that this original graph above establishes definitively that Monbiot is talking about the unscientific, green hysteria on nuclear power. But I still think that the shortened, final version reflects this in the context of my larger argument, especially if you follow the link to the one quote of his that survived.
There is, however, another reference in the piece that Monbiot is objecting to, which I think is legitimate. It is in my final graph:
Like Monbiot, some foodies have cottoned onto the exaggerations of anti-GMO activists. Let’s hope others wake up to the cynical tactics of Prop 37′s champions before they squander the food movement’s political potential.
In retrospect, I wish I would have worded this more clearly to read (change is bolded): Like Monbiot on nuclear power, some foodies have cottoned onto the exaggerations of anti-GMO activists.”
I have already suggested to my Slate editor that this change be made. But on his larger contention, I believe Monbiot is off base.