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Genomics Forum · News

Forum Director undertakes book reviews and stakeholder events



Steve Yearley explores new avenues for engagement.


The first quarter of 2013 has seen ESRC Genomics Forum Director, Professor Steve Yearley, exploring varied avenues for stakeholder engagement.

Following on from meetings with government scientific advisers in February, in March Professor Yearley travelled to Cambridge University to take part in an event organised by The Triple Helix­ – a student society which explores interdisciplinary issues surrounding science, law and politics. Entitled Tackling Climate Change: Top-down or Bottom-up, Steve Yearley joined other experts – including a celebrated environmentalist and a leading biological scientist – on a panel that debated whether responses to climate change should best be led by governmental initiatives or changes from the ground up.

Professor Yearley has also had reviews of two recent book releases featured in high-profile publications.

His review of Clive Hamilton’s Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering was featured in 28 March edition of Times Higher Education. Hamilton’s book examines a divergence in approaches to tackling anthropogenic climate change: specifically, with the apparent failure of “plan A”, i.e. bringing about a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions, an alternative “plan B” – where geo-engineering is used to ameliorate the impacts resulting from our changing climate – is considered increasingly attractive and viable.

Hamilton emphasises that we are nearer than is commonly perceived to being able to implement climate-engineering. This is deeply troubling for the author, not only because it means humanity has given up on addressing the causes of anthropogenic climate change, but also because our poor track record as custodians of the natural environment does not inspire confidence in terms of humankind’s ability to artificially manipulate the Earth’s climate.

Professor Yearley’s review concludes that Hamilton’s critical examination of the move towards geo-engineering makes for a “…smart and timely book” which “would be good for politicians to read ahead of voting on geo-engineering proposals, although sadly it ends without a compelling restatement of Plan A.”

In the February 2013 edition of Food Security, Professor Yearley provides a critique of Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, by Lester R Brown. Organised into 11 short chapters, this volume attempts to synthesise in an accessible way the background to the growing likelihood of world food problems, and is written not for the expert but for the reasonably informed and concerned citizen. The book covers themes which will be familiar to those working in the field of food security, including: problems of present day approaches to biofuels; how the increasing global demand for meat is impacting the availability of foodstuffs, such as grain; and the way in which the likely results of global climate change will tend to exacerbate food production problems.

In his review, Steve Yearley acknowledges that, the choice of issues covered in the book has been well made. However, there is one notable exception. The author makes almost no mention of genetic modification and other forms of genetic enhancement of plants, leading Yearley to conclude that “Given that so much of the world’s maize and soya beans and even rape-seed are already based on GM production, and given the prospects for much more far-reaching modification of cereal genomes, it seems a missed opportunity not to discuss this policy option.”


Steve Yearley