I watched The Island President last night and was surprised to see Mark Lynas play a role in the documentary. To be honest, he wasn’t a fully fleshed person to me before the movie. He was just someone making weak arguments about the value and need for genetically modified food and getting a lot of traction for those arguments because they came after an about-face from an equally weak position. He came across as a far more sympathetic character in the documentary, as someone genuinely concerned about global warming and who understood that how we approach global warming policy is far cry from “adequate.”
The issue, as he said in the documentary, is not just that we need to slow the growth of carbon – we actually need to “put carbon back in” to the Earth somehow to have a much lower carbon dioxide parts per million (ppm) count than we do today. One of the tensest scenes came when President Mohamad Nasheed met with his advisers, of which Lynas had become one, to announce his decision to back down from his 350 ppm demand once he saw the way negotiations in Copenhagen were going. Lynas resisted: 380 ppm was simply insufficient to help the Maldives in any meaningful way. Earlier, he was even seen resisting Nasheed’s interest in switching Maldivian energy production to natural gas – as it would harm his pledge to go carbon neutral.
I am convinced, then, of Lynas’s commitment to this issue. And I also don’t mean to specifically pick on Lynas, but as his reviewer says, he’s “wonderfully cogent” and he does spell out exactly where he stands. He’s intentionally putting himself out there as an intellectual punching bag by making statements like, “global warming is not about overconsumption, morality, ideology or capitalism.” So the problem seems to be his theory of change in so much as we see statements like that being about the future rather than past (i.e., we don’t need to change our capitalist or our consumption). Specifically, his theory of change is that hope for the future lies in modernizing our institutions and practices. In Peter Forbes’s review of The God Species, he says Lynas explains:
…why organic farming is not an option globally and why we need genetically engineered crops. The natural limit to food production is set by nitrogen which, in a form usable by plants, is rare in nature. We owe our present 6.9bn population to the 100-year-old Haber-Bosch process of nitrogen fixation to produce fertilisers. Take that away and the current population is already twice the Earth’s carrying capacity. Our best hope for the future is to genetically engineer a nitrogen-fixing plant (the green kind) to replace nitrogen-fixing plant (the heavy industrial kind).