13 August 2008

Prince Charles, Lord of the Luddites

Hit & Run - His Royal Highness, the Dunce of Wales, Speaks Against Biotech Crops - Reason Magazine

Yesterday I noticed Representatives Markey and Eshoo making fools of themselves by authoring legislation regarding the Internet, an entity they seem entirely ignorant of. Today Charles Philip Arthur George Windsor* is mouthing off about something he doesn't understand, genetically engineered crops.** Frankly I shouldn't be surprised. The role of Royalty over the last century seems to consist entirely of sitting under canopies at genteel sporting events on the one hand, and mouthing off about shit they don't understand on the other.

Let's pick this apart a bit, shall we?
In his most outspoken intervention on the issue of GM food, the Prince said that multi-national companies were conducting an experiment with nature which had gone "seriously wrong"
Which experiment would that be, Chuck? That one they did on Isla Nublar?

And why are you specifically blaming multi-national companies, Charlie? Why not intra-national, 100% British companies? Perhaps because you can not only harness the people's Luddite fears, but also xenophobia and jingoism? England Prevails, eh, Charles?
The Prince, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Telegraph, also expressed the fear that food would run out because of the damage being wreaked on the earth's soil by scientists' research.
Someone has been watching Silent Running too many times. And that someone remains ignorant of the fact that GM crops reduce soil run off and the need for fertilizers.
"Why else are we facing all these challenges, climate change and everything?"
Ummm, because of gay marriage, of course. Or maybe because God is punishing us for not wearing enough flag lapel pins. The jury's still out. Why do politicians feel compelled to link absolutely everything to their personal cause du jour? It's only a matter of time before I hear someone try to explain Russian imperialism through the lens of restricted stem cell research.
"That would be the absolute destruction of everything... and the classic way of ensuring there is no food in the future," he said.
Classic implies that this has happened before. When was the last food shortage resulting from genetic engineering? And when was the last time the British government created an artificial shortage of food? It's okay, Chucky, keep mouthing off about food shortages. The British Crown has never overseen catastrophic famines after all. Who's the bigger food threat, Monsanto or Lord Trevelyan?
"What we should be talking about is food security not food production - that is what matters and that is what people will not understand.
Yeah, I'm sure that's what matters to people who are starving. These three random Thais have more sense than Greenpeace or you.
Small farmers, in particular, would be the victims of "gigantic corporations" taking over the mass production of food.
Help! Help! We're being assaulted by economies of scale! Stop being so efficient, "gigantic corporations," it's not scenic! We want little fields with thatched cottages and oxen and dry-laid stone walls, not a modern enterprises with logistics and capital equipment and managers with advanced degrees.
"I think it's heading for real disaster," he said.
Well, since Charles has such iron-clad knowledge of agronomy, I will take his prognostication seriously. Never mind, Charles doesn't know the first thing about agronomy. How about climatology? Genetics? Economics? Demography? Oh wait, he isn't an expert, he's just the product of dozens of generations of institutionalized nepotism.
"If they think this is the way to go....we [will] end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness."
When's the last time Charles tilled a field? Farming is not something out of a Hudson River School painting. It's backbreaking work. People are voluntarily flocking to cities — excuse me, flocking to conurbations — because that's their preference. They want to escape a life of subsistence farming. I don't suppose Britain has ever forced people off land they were willingly farming, though.
The Prince of Wales's forthright comments will reopen the whole debate about GM food.
Nothing to stir debate like falsehoods and scaremongering.
His intervention comes at a critical time. There is intense pressure for more GM products, not fewer, because of soaring food costs and widespread shortages.
I'm sorry, isn't that exactly what we should expect? There's not enough food, so people look around for ways to boost production. In the process, some of them embrace scientific progress. How has the Telegraph managed to turn that into some kind of existential threat or psychological paradox?

Many scientists believe GM research is the only way to guarantee food for the world's growing population as the planet is affected by climate change.

They will be dismayed by such a high profile and controversial contribution from the Prince of Wales at such a sensitive time.

Just like I would be dismayed if everyone started paying attention to my lunatic mailman who's convinced there's a "cult of computerists" trying to invent a digital Antichrist and bring about the end of the World. Because he's about as well informed and Charlie is, and makes about as much sense when he gets to raving.

The Prince will be braced for the biggest outpouring of criticism from scientists since he accused genetic engineers of taking us into "realms that belong to God and God alone" in an article in the Daily Telegraph in 1998.

I'm sure Father Mendel would differ. As would Fr. Teilhard de Chardin. But it's good to know that Charlie is now not only acting as the arbiter of scientific truth, but of religious matters as well.

In a keynote speech last year the Prince of Wales warned that the world faces a series of natural disasters within 18 months unless a £15 billion action plan is agreed to save the world's rain forests.

Why does that sound more like a threat from some Captain Planet anti-hero than a rational scientific opinion? The existence of a plan is going to avert disasters? As in, by writing down action plans hurricanes will be stopped in their tracks? How many bullet points does the action plan need to avert these disasters? What happens if you only raise £5 billion? Do we only get a 6 month respite from the disasters? Are these going to be miscellaneous disasters, or will it be mostly earthquakes? How does brimstone fit in, if at all? This is solid Care Bear Stare politics.

Scientists claim the repeated attacks on their trials are stifling vital research to evaluate whether GM crops can reduce the cost and environmental impact of farming and whether they will grow better in harsh environments where droughts have devastated harvests.

Yes, let's stop the scientists from growing drought-resistant crops right after Charles complained that crops in India and Australia were using too much water. That's a plan only a layabout simpleton like Charles could endorse.

The end of the Hit & Run post linked above has plenty of links to reasons you should not buy into Charlie's Luddism. Learn to love biotech. It's the future whether you like it or not. And if we embrace it now, we just might be able to lift a billion people out of crippling poverty and starvation. Wouldn't that be nice?

* Petty as it may be, I refuse as a matter of principal principle to refer to him with titles, styles or honors he has not earned through his own efforts.

** I would link to the interview that Charles did with the Telegraph, but I don't link to people who do things like this: "A number of academic biologists on a agricultural listserv that I monitor are complaining that the Telegraph's editors are apparently refusing to post their comments in favor of biotech crops." [From the Hit & Run post] Screw you, Fourth Estate.


  1. Charles didn't hammer home that GM is for Monsanto to take ownership of everything. Scientific opinion doesn't affect abuse of the law.

  2. Hey, if you think big companies like Monsanto should own the rights to genetic diversity, more power to you. How about human DNA? Why not? Monsanto is in it for your security, not their profit after all. I trust Monsanto to look after my well being without question because I am a stupid robot capitalist drone.

  3. I'm sorry, did I miss the point where I weighed in on intellectual property at all? Is there a particular reason I'm being criticized and insulted for holding opinions I haven't actually expressed?

    IP law as it exists is hopelessly mired in 19th Century conceptions of invention and is seriously ill-suited for all manner of modern advances, the treatment of genetic information and computational algorithms chief among them.

    If you want to put a halt on GM crop research until we can work out problems with IP law that's another story all together. That doesn't have anything to do with Charles' anti-scientific scaremongering.