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Friday, 22 January 2016

The Greens and science

The Greens have launched a campaign to ban the use of glyphosate weed killers in public parks and streets, probably as a precursor to a total ban. While often claiming to be the party of science, more often than not the Greens are suckered into advocating policies I would politely describe as junk science.

On glyphosate, the scientific community has reacted strongly. Experts on weed science (it exists) state that the carcinogenic risks are "...the same level of warning as burning wood in the fireplace at home, upsetting circadian rhythms by doing shift work, or being a hairdresser." Sciblogs has a further refutation of the Greens' claims on glyphosate.

This policy is being driven by Steffan Browning, the MP previously famous for signing a petition calling for the testing of homeopathy to cure ebola. When questioned on this, Steffan said that he was "not opposed" to homeopathy. Steffan is free to be "not opposed" to whatever unscientific nonsense he likes - but trying to solve serious health issues (such as the excessive use of weed killers or the ebola virus) with what appear to be internet-meme inspired nonsense is embarrassing. Greens co-leader, James Shaw, seems to have let this one get past the keeper.

But it isn't just Steffan Browning. The Greens have a continually confused for and against stance on smart meters as well. Smart meters are essential for a smart grid to enable wider use of renewable energy sources. However now former Green MP Sue Kedgely was dead against them, claiming electro-magnetic field (EMF) radiation poses a serious health risk. This stance was later modified (once Sue had left parliament) to oppose smart meters for privacy reasons. Yet Dave Clendon was, about the same time, pushing a members' bill that would essentially make smart meters compulsory.

This appears to be a more fundamental issue within the Green movement between those who accept scientific orthodoxy and those who don't. As usual in politics, this appears to be a broad split between the party's MPs and its members. Take the issue of genetic modification. In Australia recently the leader of the Federal Greens, a former medical doctor, said he "does not believe genetically modified crops pose a significant risk to human health." This sent a number of Green members into conniptions.

I suspect there will be more of this sort of confusion as the Greens try to position themselves as a serious coalition partner for Labour. James Shaw certainly has his work cut out for him.