Policy Digest: Environmental Issues

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Cosmos star, took a stand on genetically modified foods in a video posted online recently. In response to a question by a French reporter, Tyson came out strongly in support of food biotechnology, saying he is “amazed how much objection genetically modified foods are receiving from the public.” In the video, viewed over half a million times, Tyson makes the point that practically every food we eat has been improved by mankind:

There are no wild, seedless watermelons. There’s no wild cows. . . . You list all the fruit and all the vegetables and ask yourself, is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is, it’s not as large, it’s not as sweet, it’s not as juicy, and it has way more seeds in it. We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables and animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them. It’s called artificial selection.

Tyson explains the movement opposed to biotechnology “smacks of the fear-factor that exists at every new emergent science that people don’t yet understand.” While I don’t necessarily agree with all of his views on environmental issues, it’s great to see Tyson take such a firm stand in defense of biotechnology. Tyson was attacked by activists in many of the thousands of comments generated on Facebook, YouTube and other news sites. View the video here and a response to the outpouring of commentary Tyson titles “Anatomy of a GMO Commentary” posted on Facebook here.


  • Recently President Obama announced his Clean Power Plan. Within the 645 pages of new mandates for power plants the target became clear: coal. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy happily agreed in an appearance on the Bill Maher Show that the new plan is a “war on coal.” But if you thought that the plan was actually aimed at curbing “pollution,” McCarthy now sets us straight by saying flat out: “This is not about pollution control.” Instead, she says the mandates, intended to slowly strangle out the approximately 600 coal-fired plants in the United States, are actually aimed at economic growth. If you want to protest that snuffing out a safe source of cheap energy is actually harmful? Don’t worry. McCarthy hears you, saying that the EPA “always” hears criticism from “some small groups.”


  • Speaking of a war on coal, in July Greenpeace once again deployed its fossil-fuel powered blimp to spread anti-fossil fuel messages. Warning people that fossil fuels are ruining the planet, the blimp flew high over Montana, a state where coal provides about 50 percent of the state’s electricity and where the technology of fracking has turned what used to be known as “the ground” into a natural gas boom. The blimp was outfitted with a sign saying “keep our coal in the ground,” replete with idyllic pictures of windmills gracing its side. The irony of a blimp operating on efficient and energy-dense aviation gasoline in order to fly through the “free and forever” wind was not lost on some.