Greenpeace dropout seeks middle ground
For 15 years, Patrick Moore was one of the most public and active members of Greenpeace.
In 1971, he took part in the maiden voyage of a group that soon became known as Greenpeace. They sailed across the North Pacific to protest hydrogen bomb testing by the United States off the coast of Alaska. They never made it to the test site, but the media coverage alone was sufficient to drive protests across North America. Soon after, U.S. President Richard Nixon cancelled the remaining tests in the series.
In 1972, Moore and the young organization ventured to the South Pacific to take on France and its atmospheric testing of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Two years of protests and violent encounters with the French navy was enough to, once again, generate media coverage that would lead to a shutdown of atmospheric testing.
In the later 1970s, he was part of widely covered campaigns to save the whales and, of course, baby seals.
Moore was the quintessential environmental activist. But there was an emerging problem — he was also a scientist with a PhD in ecology. As the years went on, he found himself in an environment that was increasingly hostile toward science and solutions to environmental problems.
He was the only scientist in a Greenpeace leadership that was largely comprised of political activists and environmental entrepreneurs. When Greenpeace began to ignore science and logic in favour of an “increasingly senseless” and “anti-sci- ence” agenda, Moore knew it was time to leave the very organization he helped to create.
It’s a fascinating story and one that’s chronicled in a newly released book by Moore, called Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist.
It tells a story of contrasts and outlines the dual transformation of Moore (who gradually adopted a problem-solving approach known as sustainable development) and Greenpeace (as it descended increasingly into environmental extremism and confrontation). Moore writes that Greenpeace had perfected the art of confrontation, but “when a majority of people decide they agree with all your reasonable ideas, the only way you can remain confrontational . . . is to adopt ever more extreme positions.”
Moore ultimately left Greenpeace for a variety of reasons. But, surprisingly, it wasn’t the whales or the baby seals or even the environment, as we would define it, that seem to be at the core of Moore’s transformation — it was people.
From his writings, it’s clear that a main division among environmentalists — and one that I have previously discussed — is their perception of humanity. Are human beings some kind of evolutionary mutations who are nothing but a blight on the Earth? Or are they an integral part of the environment that need to be part of the solution?
Paul Watson, another well-known activist and founder of Greenpeace, has written that “curing the biosphere of the human virus” will require a “radical and invasive approach.” He is perhaps wistfully hoping for large-scale natu- ral disasters or a globally endorsed (and enforced) one-child policy. Or perhaps even a Hitler-like final solution.
Comments like those by Watson give reasonable people concrete reasons to either stay away from environmental activism, or to outright dismiss it.
Mind you, as Moore describes in his book, this is the same Watson who led a crew to save the baby seals and ended up saving himself first when the weather grew harsh and there were fears of freezing to death. The expedition was trapped for three long days, and when a helicopter finally arrived, Watson (their intrepid leader) was one of the first to leave the ice.
He left his crew, including a female crew member, to hang on until another helicopter could come to the rescue.
Needless to say, Moore has been greatly vilified by Greenpeace and its supporters. He’s often referred to as “the eco-Judas” and the official Greenpeace statement on him says his claims run from “the exaggerated . . . to the downright false.”
Yet, they don’t offer any scientific or logic-based criticism in attempting to discredit his views — only rhetoric.
But Moore’s book is far more than an inner look at the devolution of Greenpeace. He also details his vision on sustainable development and comments on all of the hot-button environmental issues of the day — climate change, forestation, nuclear power, etc.
Ultimately, the book tells the story of a man who found his way amid an organization that lost its way. SUSAN MARTINUK’S COLUMN RUNS EVERY FRIDAY.