Graham Strouts’ 500 words | Impermaculture

Graham Strouts’ 500 words | Impermaculture

In our ongoing project, Graham Strouts gives his 500 words on how he challenged his anti-establishment ideology and the permaculture movement. Despite losing social relationships, Strouts keeps his passion for science, skepticism, and learning. His story sets an encouraging example of how people’s views do change through rational discourse.

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Here is Graham Strouts in his own words:

I left college 27 years ago with a fairly typical anti-establishment ideology.

Having flirted briefly with CND and the anti-nuclear movement in the early 1980s, I determined that there was no hope for modern civilisation- that it was unsustainable -and resolved to a back-to-the land life of self-sufficiency. I quickly got involved with permaculture, which I still teach a version of to this day.

My first encounter with GMOs was at an Earth Day event in Maynooth around 1998. Vandana Shiva was there, and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, debating with a Monsanto executive. Many of my friends had been involved with direct action against Monsanto sugar beet trials in County Wexford, which put paid to GMOs in Ireland for a long time. I went along unquestioningly with the strongly held views of my tribe, but even then I was vaguely aware that I really didn’t know anything about GMOs.

Some years later as I learned more about science and critical thinking I became disillusioned with the permaculture movement, with its New Age religious beliefs and superstitions. Slowly, painfully, I found an effective debunking for one environmentalist myth after another. The turning point on GMOs was reading Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline and Professor Pam Ronald and Raoul Adamchuk’s Tomorrow’s Table. I remember racing through the earlier chapters of Brand’s book to get to the chapter on GMOs. It was a revelation- everything everyone I knew was saying turned out to be false.

I became fascinated by both the science and the sociology, politics and psychology. I went on holiday to the US and visited Pam and Raoul at their home in California, and got to see Pam’s lab where I met my first transgenes. I engaged in countless debates on Facebook, Twitter and blog threads. I lost many long-standing friends and to some extent have become estranged from my community. I have been constantly surprised by the viciousness and blatant dishonesty people I previously respected have been willing to engage in in order to defend their irrational beliefs. It turns out that the anti-science of the Greens is not progressive and “left-wing” but rather betrays a deeply conservative, traditionalist and reactionary mindset. GMOs are just a form of advanced plant breeding; historically, new methods of breeding have often been opposed by the status quo.

Activists can only see things in simplistic black-and-white terms and absurd conspiracy theories. Theirs is a darkly narcissistic and negative view of humanity, which they seem to despise, in contrast to the assumed purity of Nature, which they revere, oblivious to how Nature only seems sublime when you have a full belly.

On the other hand I have also been surprised and delighted at the more open-minded students on my course who have shown it is possible for people to shift their thinking, sometimes dramatically and quite quickly, just from having new information presented in an interesting and engaging fashion.

They are the ones who give me hope and make the battles seem all worthwhile.

Graham Strouts studied sociology in Essex before dropping out to pursue a simple life of back-to-the-land self-sufficiency. He moved to Ireland from the UK in 1991 and worked in landscaping and tree nurseries. For the past 9 years he has taught horticulture, permaculture, green building and woodland management at an Adult Education Centre in Kinsale, Cork.
He lives on a small-holding in West Cork where he has a self-built timber-frame cabin, supplies all his own firewood from a woodland coppice, grows vegetables, fruit trees and lots of unusual edible plants.
He writes a blog at SkeptEco taking a critical look at many aspects of environmentalism.
If you would like us at GMO SF to share your story, please see our previous post: Callout for Your Stories! In 500 Words, What is Your Stance on GMOs in Society?
Photo credit: IRRI Photos | CC