SiS Obituary 28/10/15
Champion of Planet Earth & Humanity at Large Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP died on 20 October 2015, just two weeks before his 76th birthday, Planet Earth and humanity at large have lost one of their greatest champions. And we at the Institute of Science in Society have lost our friend, ally, and kindred spirit.
Meacher had been UK Member of Parliament for Oldham West and Royton since 1970, and environment minister for the first six years of Tony Blair’s government. Jim Pickard wrote of Meacher in the Financial Times : “In government the committed ecologist demonstrated a formidable grasp of the details of nuclear power, global warming and pollution… Among his achievements were introducing a countryside “right to roam”, securing greater protection for wildlife areas, tackling genetically modified foods and playing a role in the Kyoto climate negotiations [agreement reached in 2001].” The obituary in The Guardian also described Meacher as  “minister committed to green issues and defeating poverty”
Meacher studied classics and divinity at Oxford University, obtained a first class degree and seemed destined to become an Anglican minister as was his mother’s wish. But he then studied for a diploma in social administration at London School of Economics, and went into politics instead, with the same fervour for saving the world as saving souls.
Meacher read widely and wrote a great deal. His books include What the Three Main Parties Are Not Telling You: A Radical Way Out of Stagnation and Inequality, 2015; The State We Need, 2013; and Destination of the Species, the Riddle of Human Existence, 2010.
Peter Saunders reviewed Destiny of the Species, Meacher’s personal take on the meaning of life and the universe  Does God Have a Monopoly on Spirituality (SiS 49). It describes his quest for what he really believes starting with whether there is a God at all. He comes down in the affirmative, relying on the argument from design, and concludes that while belief in God depends ultimately on revelation and personal non-scientific experience, there is enough scientific evidence in favour that it is not inconsistent with modern thought. For him and others like him, this leaves open the possibility of what he describes as a proud and existential reality, not capable of being proven but only to be understood “in the fullness of experience.” Spirituality, he argues, gives us a counter to the scientific reductionism and rampant consumerism that have become so influential in the West, especially since the middle of the last century. Many of us who regard ourselves agnostics or atheist scientists would be quite comfortable with that conclusion.
According to The State We Need , the priorities are rebalancing the ecology, tackling inequality and addressing ecological damage. “The neoliberal capitalist system which has dominated the world for the last three decades is finished, though its proponents and apologists refuse to recognise the fact,” Meacher argues; and many would agree with him.
Tributes have poured in. Jeremy Corbyn, newly elected leader of the Labour Party said : “We have lost a good man of fundamental decency who exemplified this country’s very best socialist and labour traditions.”
Ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband describes Meacher as  “principled, kind, thoughtful and deeply committed to a fairer, more just world.”
Ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown remembers him as  “a prodigious writer, a talented speaker, a reforming minister and highly effective propagandist who with little thought for his own health campaigned relentlessly for social justice and for a fairer Britain throughout his life.”
Caroline Lucas, Green MP, said Meacher was  “a great politician, championing climate action”.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite said Meacher was  “a tremendous figure in the Labour movement, devoting his life to the advancement of working people…a true friend of the trade union movement.”
Dr David Lowry, researcher in nuclear energy for Michael in the nine months leading up to the 1997 general election landslide victory for Labour, recalls how barely days after the attacks of 9/11 in the US, Meacher had a stand-up fight in the environment department with Mrs Beckett, who was pushing through the Blair-backed plan for a plutonium-fuels fabrication plant at Sellafield . Blair won, but Meacher was right, as the plant has proven to be a “technical failure and economic disaster.” After that, Michael decided his own advisers could not be trusted as objective and created a shadow advice panel on radioactive waste including Lowry, who said : “Time has proved our independent advice significantly more accurate, as the nuclear waste disposal strategy finally collapsed too. Time will show Michael Meacher was the best environment secretary wenever had.”
Meacher’s achievement in negotiating the Kyoto Protocol is generally acknowledged. No one has mentioned the key role Meacher played in negotiating the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. When the large American delegation that have been obstructing the entire 6-year process finally backed down and the agreement went through in 2000, Meacher said : “For the first time countries will have the right to decide whether they want to import GM products or not when there is less than full scientific evidence. It is official that the environment rules aren’t subordinate to the trade rules. It’s been one hell of a battle.” Meacher has stuck to this precautionary principle enshrined in the Cartagena Protocol ever since, which is why despite the enthusiasm of the Blair and successive administrations for GM crops we still have none growing on British soil. And Meacher has been proven right, yet again. There is now such overwhelming evidence on the health, environmental, and agronomic impacts of GM crops (see  Ban GMOS Now , ISIS special report) as well as associated glyphosate herbicides ( Banishing Glyphosate , ISIS special Report) that GM crops may well be on their way out (  Continuing Demise of GMOs, SiS 68).
It was at the United Nations Conferences on Biosafety that I first met Michael Meacher, he representing the British government, I co-opted as scientific advisor to the Third World Network and was criticising successive drafts of the risk assessment guidelines as highly inadequate from a scientific and safety standpoint (see my book  Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare). The environmental and civil society groups made life so difficult for those drafting the document with a distinctly pro-industry agenda that we were soon shut out of group discussions. Meacher would regularly meet with us, tell us what was going on behind closed doors and encouraging us to take as strong a stand as possible.
Back in Britain in 1999, I got to know Meacher better when he invited me and Michael Antoniou, biomedical geneticist at King’s College London, to debate biosafety issues in his office with pro-biotech geneticists who were advising the UK government, an event I described in my book  Living with the Fluid Genome (ISIS publication). I highlighted the hazards of horizontal gene transfer and the CaMV 35S promoter. They dismissed everything. “Just because horizontal gene transfer happens in the laboratory does not mean it can happen in nature,” one of them said. They were proved wrong both on the hazards of horizontal gene transfer and on the CaMV 35S promoter (see ).
Towards the end of our debate, Meacher asked the important questions of our opponents: “When will scientific evidence be considered sufficient to indicate that the risk is unacceptable?” The scientific advisors had no answer. The precautionary principle states that when there is reasonable suspicion of harm, lack of scientific certainty or consensus must not be used to postpone preventative action (see  Use and Abuse of the Precautionary Principle, ISIS Report). Instead, the scientific advisors appear to be operating on the inverse precautionary principle, according to which all processes and product must be approved unless proven absolutely unsafe. We had by then launched an Open Letter from World Scientists to All Governments , calling for a moratorium on GMOs until proven safe for health and the environment, a rejection of patents of genes and organisms, and a shift to sustainable non-GM agriculture. It was signed by over 800 from more than 82 countries, and although discontinued in 2003, being superseded by an Independent Science Panel (ISP) report  The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World (see below); it played a significant role in recent campaigns against GMOs in the United States (it has been widely reposted and referred to, for example, here: http://buzz.naturalnews.com/000880-GMOs-scientists-government.html and here: http://naturalsociety.com/800-scientists-global-gmo-experiment-stop/).
Meacher became ISIS’ best friend and ally in public life. He read every issue of our quarterly magazine Science in Society with lavish praises (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php) since it first appeared in 2002, and we have also published several speeches he gave at public meetings we organized. Meacher introduced the Independent Science Panel at its launch conference in 2003 ( Michael Meacher At Launch of Independent Science Panel, SiS 18). In welcoming him to the meeting, Peter Saunders said, “Tony Blair has done two good things for the environment. He appointed Michael as environment minister, and then, when he discovered Michael took the job seriously, he left him in post.” Unfortunately, this turned out to be tempting fate; Meacher was sacked two weeks later. This left Meacher free to criticize the government, and he did.
Our ISP report  calling for a ban on GM crops and a comprehensive shift to sustainable agriculture was presented in the UK Parliament and European Parliament, circulated worldwide, and translated into 5 or more languages. Meacher was keynote speaker at both events. In the UK Parliament he called for an open enquiry into GM safety  ISP News - Meacher Calls for Enquiry into GM Safety (ISIS Report).
ISIS launched Sustainable World Global Initiative in April 2005, held its first international conference 14/15 July 2005 in UK Parliament  Sustainable World Coming (SiS 27) at which Meacher spoke to a packed audience. The initiative’s first report  Which Energy was released in the UK Parliament sponsored by Meacher and Alan Simpson. Meacher and Simpson sponsored and spoke at two further highly successful conferences in UK parliament for the release of a second definitive report  Food Futures Now (2008) showing how organic agriculture and localized food and energy systems can provide food and energy security and free us from fossil fuels; while the third and final report  Green Energies - 100% Renewable by 2050 released November 2009, struck a chord among politicians and opinion formers. It marks the turning point in the world’s commitment to green renewable energies.
Meacher’s final appearance with us was to support our Reclaiming Beauty and Truth in Science and Art campaign launched in a unique art/science event 26-27 March 2011, when a wholefoods factory was transformed overnight into an art gallery and music/lecture hall around the theme of ‘quantum jazz’, the sublime aesthetics of quantum coherence in living systems and the living universe (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Avant_Garde_ArtScience_Event.php.)
Meacher was so much the part of the spark and spirit of I-SIS that it is extremely hard to imagine life without him.
Got something to say about this page? Comment
There are 2 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.
Todd Millions Comment left 28th October 2015 21:09:01
This is indeed a sad and great loss. Without triggering any unwanted attention- Mr. Meacher had concerns about certain buildings collapsing on the same day,that were never properly reported on in N. America when he raised them in the house. His tabling of some questions of invisible airliners knocking down buildings that were reported collapsed already,was not yet -fashionable. Nor his questions on reasons for troop deployments resulting from it, When he tabled them in Parliament. I was surprised too learn how -unanglician he was in his laudable dedication too physical reality and actual americian history that was revealed in these questions. But he had already made a commendable habit of such an approach in other matters.These made him a brilliant credit too all of us who share the Yorky 'bloddymindedness too infinite depths' gene marker. His commendable target discretion with this most potent of two edged weapons, is surely a most excellent example too us all . Gods speed him.
Sam Burcher Comment left 5th November 2015 22:10:11
I am pleased to see this moving tribute to Michael Meacher MP. He was a great speaker, leader and environmental champion. He had a very special influence during a time of intense political pressures to bring unhealthy and unsustainable technologies to the market place. His willingness to share his own unique personal power and to listen then thoughtfully respond was a particularly refreshing and invigorating personality trait. He has helped the lives of many people over the course of his long career and will be sorely missed.