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Are environmentalists right to question the wisdom of nuclear power, genetically modified foods, and geoengineering, or is the failure to embrace technologies putting humanity at risk?

On February 23rd, the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, hosted its second annual public seminar, “Can technology save the planet?” The speakers included environmentalist and award-winning author Mark Lynas and Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist and policy director of the environmental campaign group Greenpeace. Liz Barclay, who presented BBC Radio 4’s daily consumer strand You and Yours for more than 10 years, moderated the discussion.

Human pressure on the Earth’s ecosystem has now reached a point where rapid global environmental change is possible. Scientists have identified nine planetary boundaries that define a “safe operating space for humanity”, and we have already crossed three: for climate change, biodiversity and nitrogen input to the biosphere. The extent we will be affected by crossing these planetary boundaries will be dependent on our ability to cope with and prevent rapid environmental change. Is it now time to use our technological mastery over nature to protect the planet from ourselves?

Traditionally, environmentalists have been suspicious of new technologies and have rejected calls to embrace GM crops and nuclear power. But is that wise? This seminar examined that question and the role of technology in tackling current and future environmental challenges.

Mark Lynas caused controversy in the environmental movement with his recent book The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, in which he set out a radical manifesto calling for the increased use of genetic engineering and nuclear power.

Dr Doug Parr is a key campaigner on the relationship between technology and policy. He has campaigned on a range of issues including climate change, energy, transport, biofuels, geoengineering and nuclear power.

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