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Wrong priorities?

It may have escaped your notice but 2015 is the UN “Year of the Soil”, a crucial resource we largely take for granted. It is a miracle that we can capture energy from a distant star via plants and convert it into usable forms upon which all Life depends. There are mountains of research and columns on climate change, but little written about greater threats to us in the interlinking areas of food, water and energy security. These present a more compelling narrative of need and crisis for us as a species than that of climate change. As global population grows inexorably to ten billion we will need to double food production by 2050. An enormous challenge for research and practice, as it needs to come from the same land area, with less energy and water and with high environmental and social stewardship. No greater challenge has ever faced the human race. I strongly assert that we have mismatched priorities and are in danger of missing the real threats in pursuit of the illusory.

There is little real evidence of human induced climate change. All scientists agree that the flawed models, upon which we base costly policy, are increasingly out of line with reality. All agree there has been no increase in mean measured global temperatures for almost two decades. The argument is between these theoretical models or real independent measurements, 18-nil to reality so far!  When checking a childs health, one is better to rely on a thermometer than a poor model which has always predicted the wrong temperature. No argument that polar ice sheets are now growing, sea levels are not rising and no increase in extreme weather despite predictions. All agree that the climate has always changed, but links with CO2 levels are becoming increasingly unlikely with each passing year. Over the last thirty years increased CO2 helped us by increasing global crop yields and natural vegetation by between 7 and 14%. Without increasing CO2 we would be facing famines and migrations of biblical proportions. Correlation is not causation and there is an increasingly poor correlation.

We concentrate limited resources on a non-problem and ignore more pressing issues. Whilst driving the poorest into fuel poverty by doubling electricity costs via windpower, we despoil landscapes and steal funds from the areas of health, education and research, where needs are more pressing and would create more jobs. We do need to increase energy efficiency and husband resources, but we go about it in an inefficient and profligate manner. Should we subsidise foreign energy companies or spend more caring for our elderly and children and invest more in agriculture, water and energy research when in reality we cut back there?

I see a real danger of Europe becoming an over legislated, under performing backwater in these crucial areas. Scotland has abundant water and agricultural resources but more research and better practice is needed to husband them for the good of all. Scotland also has a clear role in global agriculture , but has been hampered by cutbacks coupled with misguided application of the precautionary principle which has hindered wealth creation. Our global lead in crop genetics research has been thrown away by government. Whilst careful genetic manipulation of crops achieves great success around the globe by reducing pesticide use and decreasing energy and water use, we have turned our backs on these advantages. This technology, not exclusively GM, offers immense promise in feeding and clothing the “Ten Billion” whilst bringing health and environmental benefits.

Every Scottish household is full of GM products grown safely in other nations. We are adept at exporting our “problems” by outsourcing to the US or China for food or manufactured goods, our own parochial valley is not as Green as it appears. Organic production is extremely resource hungry in its need land, taking up to four times as much land to produce a loaf as conventional farming and is just as open to pollution, whilst benefiting from previous fertiliser use. If adopted globally it would swiftly be termed “genocide” agriculture as it could not feed our current numbers, let alone children yet unborn. My experience in Cuba has shown organic to be a failed myth when adopted nationally, with 70% of food imported and ration card carrying citizens despite labour and climatic advantages. Misguided bans on essential pesticides which are safely used as medicinal foot creams is another example.

Only by careful and targeted use of increased research and technology in the linked areas of food, water and energy can we hope to survive and thrive. There can be no going back to an imaginary halcyon age, which never existed in the first place. Maybe we should be addressing the real verifiable challenges and spending less resources on the imagined clothes of the Emperor?

Dr Keith Dawson

The Scotsman - April 2015