After Brexit and Trump: don’t demonise; localise!

Rupert Read and Helena Norberg-Hodge analyse how to respond to the Trump-Brexit wave in The Ecologist

“Both Trump and Brexit can be explained by the failure of mainstream political elites to address the pain inflicted on ordinary citizens in the neoliberal era, write Helena Norberg-Hodge & Rupert Read. In the US and the UK, working class voters rightly rejected the corporate globalisation that has created so much poverty and insecurity. But the real solutions lie not in hatred, but relocalisation.”


Why are Liberals losing the war of soundbites

“From Donald Trump’s triumphant slogan to the Brexiteers’ ‘take back control’, political discourse is saturated with powerful images or ‘frames’. Should the left fight fire with fire – or will that make things even more toxic?”

Excellent piece in the Guardian…and I’m quoted as founder of the “Green Words Workshop”

The precautionary case against GMOs is as strong as ever, today’s dangerous Select Committee report notwithstanding

(This is a piece from the archives, first published @ thenewshub 26 Feb 2015)

The House of Commons Select Committee
have published today a report, in which they argue that there is no precautionary case against GM food. They are comprehensively wrong. Here’s why, in a nutshell.

lt might be true that the evidence against GM food is weak. Even if that were true, that would in no way license the conclusion that GM food is safe. One needs to consider the vast unevidenced realm of what else might have happened in the past but didn’t and of what might happen in the future (which by definition hasn’t happened yet), and not just the thin sliver represented by the best available evidence.

The Select Committee were offered this argument in evidence to their inquiry. They chose to ignore that evidence.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee now claim that:

The scientific evidence is clear that crops developed using genetic modification pose no more risk to humans, animals or the environment than equivalent crops developed using more ‘conventional’ techniques.

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee

With all due respect, that is false.

Speaking for myself, I am willing to accept that there probably isn’t strong scientific evidence that GM crops have harmed humans or animals to date. And even the evidence of harm to ecosystems, though real, is not overwhelming. That’s common ground that I am willing to concede to the advocates of GM. But even granting that doesn’t help prove their case. For the fundamental point that Nassim Taleb and I make in our work on GM, work that the Committee sadly seems to have ignored despite my having brought it to their attention, is that absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of absence of potential harm. The scientific evidence is not “clear” that GM crops pose “no” more risk than other crops. On the contrary, a genuinely precautionary approach will not stake our future recklessly on top-down engineering of the very thing that we live off: our land, nature, and our crops.

It didn’t help the Committee that the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Mark Walport, so evidently fails to understand the Precautionary Principle itself (see sections 111-112 of the Select Committee report), and is seeking to ‘dumb it down’ to be more or less vacuous. Sir Mark would do well to read the piece that Taleb and I wrote.

The Committee claim that: is clear from the evidence given to the Committee that…simply because a crop has been produced via genetic modification [does not mean that the precautionary principle needs to be invoked].

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee

Again, this is very far from clear. In fact, the Committee have clearly prejudged the issue, against the Precautionary Principle, as I have pointed out before today. They have failed, ironically, to actually take an ‘evidence-based’ approach to their own inquiry. They clearly went into this exercise already quite determined on what the outcome they would reach would be. They fitted the ‘evidence’ to the conclusion that they wanted, and not the other way around.

The Precautionary Principle ought to be invoked when an action surrounded by uncertainty risks unleashing ruin. The potential destruction of our food system or of our natural biodiversity is just such an uncertain risk.

As I warned at the outset of the inquiry, along with colleagues, the very terms of reference of the Committee biased the pitch against precautiousness, and in favour of ‘evidence-based’ approaches. Who could object to being evidence-based? But essentially what the inquiry amounts to – to be seeking to justify – is a reckless disregard for precaution, and instead a peculiar dogma that states that until we have evidence that something is harmful, it should be presumed to be safe. But to say again the crucial point; absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of absence of harm. Being ‘evidence-based’ is a soundbite-excuse for not considering precaution, and for not considering ethics.

In relation to GM food, that we don’t have a great deal of evidence of harm is not a sound evidence-based reason for thinking that we have evidence of absence of harm. We do not. And precaution dictates that we should therefore be precautious.

Future generations may barely get the chance to reproach us, if we fail to be.

As a post scriptum, one of those ‘evidence-based’ members of the Science and Tech Select Committee is David Tredinnick MP, who made the news yesterday because of his belief in astrology. Somehow, I think we can do better than this.

Being Human Festival – A short history of philosophy with a radical green edge

(UEA, Norwich) – Wednesday 23 November | 18.00–19.30

Professor Catherine Rowett and Dr Rupert Read are both lecturers in the University of East Anglia’s philosophy department and recently stood as parliamentary candidates in the 2015 elections. Drawing on these experiences, they will speak about the overlaps between philosophy and radical politics, and give a brief overview of the history of philosophy from a broadly green perspective before taking questions from the audience. The speakers aim to provide a stimulating genealogy of how our cultural ideas have shifted and what this can teach us about how to deal with the current growing ecological crisis.

Free admission | No booking required


America’s democratic gamble is terrifying – we must do all we can to oppose it

No one who believes in democracy can vote for Trump.

First published at

So, Trump threatens to put on trial and to imprison his opponent, if he wins. And if he loses, he threatens to call foul, claiming that the election is rigged against him.

This is behaviour typical of the worst kind of ‘banana republic’. No self-respecting believer in democracy could vote for such a person.

Moreover, the Kremlin is seeking to influence the election to get Clinton to lose and Trump to win. How did we reach a situation where the Republican Presidential candidate is preferred by the Russian premier, who commits espionage to try to help him win?

And yet even this hasn’t finished Trump off. On the contrary, there is still a very realistic chance that Trump will win. This is not like the situation in France in 2002, when Chirac destroyed Le Pen in the head-to-head run-off, and Le Pen never really stood a chance. Trump could still win.

This shows that American democracy is doubly in peril. Because a leading Presidential contender can say these things – and yet he still remains in contention.

How is this possible?

One key reason is the weakness of his opponents. The Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who could have stolen a real march on Trump at this election by being the far-more-of-our-time smart right-wing alternative remains doggedly and stupidly out of touch with young people (and in fact all rational people) on great issues of our time such as climate change.

The Green candidate Jill Stein is, naturally, great on a raft of key issues but has blotted her copy book very, very badly through not only being a Putin-apologist but, because of this, going so far as to claim that Clinton is worse than Trump, and supporting Assad’s/Putin’s war criminal attacks on the Syrian people.

As for Clinton herself: she is an excellent debater who took Trump apart over the three Presidential debates (and yet he remains in contention!). She is highly-experienced, and a safe pair of hands on a number of important issues (such as: not banning abortion).

She has improved her policy-platform considerably on several key issues since Bernie Sanders’s endorsement negotiations with her; Clinton has also improved her position vis-a-vis neoliberal free trade deals and campaign-finance-reform, over the past year, under pressure from Sanders’s rivalry — this is about the only good news about the current presidential election cycle).

However, she remains a weak candidate; partly because of an irrational hatred of powerful women etc., but also, and crucially, because she remains to an terrifying degree in the pocket of high finance and more generally of those who are committing our planet to a corporate-dominated, neoliberal future. I.

One reason why Trump remains in contention, then, is because many who might have been persuaded by Sanders, whose tremendous opposition to neoliberal trade-deals etc. played such a key role in almost enabling him to pull off the impossible and beat Clinton in the primaries, are won over by Trump’s opposition to NAFTA and to similarly-disastrous examples of ‘peak-globalisation’.

In other words: even if Trump is seen off, American democracy is in dire peril. For it remains to be seen whether a President Clinton would be able to do or even try to do all the good things she promises. And, even if she does, America will remain a plutocracy more than a democracy. One country, under big money.

That’s one key reason why Trump is still in the race.

But, to return to where I started: the bottom-line is that no-one could believe in actually-existing ‘democracy’ or in a possible future democracy, and still vote for Trump, after his latest incredible remarks, remarks so dangerous they may well lead to violence if he loses. Which is why it is incredible, and profoundly-disturbing, that he is still in contention at all.

I think therefore all of us owe it to our American friends, and to the future of the world, to do whatever we can in the remaining days and weeks to influence the result. Not, of course, through espionage or the like!

But through letting Americans know that we cannot understand how a democracy which has given much hope to the world can so casually gamble with no longer being a democracy at all.


Post-growth Localisation – a pamphlet by Rupert Read and Helena Norberg-Hodge

“Is ever more economic activity a good thing at all, in a world where what is scarce is nature, and time, and peace and quiet?”

Rupert Read

“The most effective way to alleviate a whole range of seemingly disparate symptoms — from deforestation to pollution, from poverty to ethnic conflict — is to change the dominant economy. Most important of all, countering the pressures that separate us from one another and the natural world would resonate with our deeper human needs. At the most fundamental level, localisation is the economics of happiness.”

Helena Norberg-Hodge