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'Pusztai affair' and genetically modified crops


G8 Summit – a slow process on tackling climate change
Aaron Klug Scientist
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To reflect on that now, we may have made some headway now. At the time, the most important body would have been the US Academy, National Academy, so I approached Bruce Alberts, the then President, and asked him to join me in the statement of the two Academies about the global warming and the importance of taking action now, because it's going on a quite a rate. The rate has advanced. In those days, the evidence we had was from drill holes in the Antarctic ice which went down to about 400,000 years, and showed that there had never been another period of such rapid climatic change. And now the drillings have gone to 600,000, or was it 800,000? There was a paper recently and it's still true, so there there've been long periods at which you've had changes in the climate. You've had the great... people as you know in the eighteenth century roasted oxens on the Thames and things like that, but this is something different, and I think that's now broadly accepted. But Bruce Alberts said, that although they were sympathetic, they couldn't enter into this, for this was the year... end of 1999, beginning of the year 2000, when there was the Presidential election in the States, and Bush was standing, that's the younger Bush, and his opponent was... oh goodness, Albert Gore, and Albert Gore was called an environmentalist and being an environmentalist meant that he believed we should do something about global warming, so Bruce said we cannot take a position on this because it would appear if we supported what is part of the environmentalist lobby, we would be taking a stand in politics, and we don't that. And that's pretty... a pity, because, you see, the US National Academy was set up by Congress, to advise Congress on special issues. The Royal Society is a totally independent body and although we have received money from the Government, we don't have a set amount from the Government. What we do we get money from the Government for various projects or programmes and processes, one by one. There's no foundation money. It's quite unlike the French... the French Academy. It's quite interesting, Voltaire wrote about the French Academy when he was in... he spent four years in... and had letters from England. In the French Academy, the Fellows... the Fellows are paid. In the British Royal Society, you pay a subscription, moreover, if you attend a meeting of the French Academy, you also get an attendance fee, and there's a very small number, so they constitute a very small elite, and there is another second body called Corresponding Members, that's very, very different. So the Royal Society really is independent of the Government and give advice whether you're asked for it or not. That's really what it is.

But I should say that I'm quite encouraged... with recent... in fact this year before the G8 Summit, the Academies of the US, the Royal Society, China, Brazil, I don't remember about India, but I think they must have been in it, all came out and said that global warming had a man-made contribution, a large man-made contribution, and something should be done. And so, the G8 actually came out with it. For the first time ever they discussed the issue and, of course, Tony Blair has been talking about it for some time. So he managed to get it at least discussed at the G8 Summit. So it's a very slow process, and I talk about this because there are probably other issues where it takes a long time for reason to get hold against prejudices or other lobbies, contra-lobbies or whatever. In this case, it's the energy or the petroleum lobby and the big powerful petroleum companies, but there is... of course, we also discuss things like alternatives and during my Presidency we invited Toyota to show us their Prius car which was parked in the forecourt of the Royal Society. The Prius car is partly electric and partly petrol, and so when you run in town it's electric, that avoids all the stops and starts, but if you're doing a continuous ride, driving, you then switch over to the petrol engine, and that was the first of its kind, and I did that deliberately as part of the business of promoting the efficient use of trying to cut down carbon dioxide production. So one way or another, I was involved in it over the years, and of course I regarded that as pretty important. I still think... we really must accelerate, we really must start doing something pretty soon, before it gets too late, and in this country, it's very important because we are losing the experts. I don't think there is anybody left who can build a new nuclear power station, at least there won't be anybody left.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: John Finch Ken Holmes

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

Tags: US National Academy, The Royal Society, Toyota, Bruce Alberts, Albert Gore, Tony Blair

Duration: 5 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008