FLORIDA, August 10, 2012 — Over the last several years, environmental politics have become a serious priority for untold millions. While it is good to see that Mother Nature is getting the attention she deserves, might this come with some unexpected drawbacks?
Patrick Moore, one of the original co-founders of Greenpeace, has more than a bit to say about the subject in this second part of our discussion. He also explains why he left Greenpeace after being elected the president of its foundation, holding this office for nearly ten years.
Beyond Greenpeace, though, Moore has done remarkable work in the field of sustainable development. Has he found it easier to champion the concerns of the environment on his own terms, rather than those of a group? What does he believe that the greatest challenges to the environment will be during the years ahead?
Finally, how, exactly, did he come to have such an interesting life and career?
Joseph F. Cotto: Here in the United States, as in Canada, environmental politics have become tremendously important. What, in your opinion, is one benefit and drawback of this?
Dr. Patrick Moore: It is critically important that we have a good understanding of the impact of our civilization on the earth’s environment. We depend on the environment fore all our food, energy, and material needs. If we damage the environment’s ability to supply those needs we will suffer. Then there is the belief that we should preserve a good portion of wild nature in its wild state, rather than turning the entire earth into a system to provide for humans. People should realize that intensive agriculture, using science and technology, chemistry (fertilizers and pesticides), genetics and biotechnology (GMOs) is one of the best ways to reduce the conversion of natural ecosystems into food production. The more food we grow per acre the less forest needs to be cleared to grow it. Yet greens are against most of this and promote “organic farming” (another ideology) that would require 4-5 times as much land to produce the same amount of food.
The drawback is that many of the policies promoted by environmentalists are in fact very detrimental to the environment. They are basically opposed to forestry even though it produces by far the most important source of both renewable energy and renewable materials. The oppose nuclear energy even though it is the most powerful technology to replace coal plants, and there is no question that coal kills orders of magnitudes more people than nuclear. They oppose GMOs (zero tolerance) even though they could end micronutrient deficiency (malnutrition) nearly all of which is in the rice-eating cultures where, for example, between 250,000 to 500,000 children go blind every year due to vitamin-A deficiency (WHO). They are simply against too many beneficial technologies.
Cotto: In 1977, you were elected the president of the Greenpeace Foundation. Less than ten years later, however, you left the organization. Why did you leave Greenpeace? Do you believe that it currently does beneficial work for the environment?
Dr. Moore: I left Greenpeace because I found myself, after 15 years in the leadership, the only director of six directors of Greenpeace International with any formal science education. I have an Honors BSc in biology and forest biology, a PhD in ecology during which I was the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship, an honorary doctorate of science (North Carolina State), the Einstein Society’s Award for Nuclear Science and History, and have over 40 years experience in all aspects of the environmental movement.
Yet at the time one of my fellow director’s said “Oh Pat, we’re all ecologists”. They began to adopt policies, on what were by this time quite complex issues of chemistry and biology, that I could not support with my knowledge of science. The most prominent of these was a policy to “ban chlorine worldwide” (they now publicly deny this even though the media archives provide extensive proof). I tried to convince them that a more nuanced approach to the 11th most common element in the earth’s crust was probably wiser than calling for an outright ban. Especially seeing there is no denying that chlorine is the most important of all the elements for public health and medicine. Adding chlorine to drinking water is the biggest advance in the history of public health, and chlorine chemistry is involved in a majority of our synthetic pharmaceuticals.
So I was forced to leave and glad I did (but sad I had to) because I saw the writing on the wall. Since I left, Greenpeace has adopted many positions, including hanging on to the mistake of being against nuclear energy, that I do not agree with from an environmental perspective. The only issue I have changed my opinion on since leaving GP is nuclear energy. I simply believe we all made the mistake of lumping nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons as if everything nuclear and radioactive was evil. Even though no one died from radiation at Fukushima, and according to the best experts no one will, they make it out to be one of the greatest disasters of all time. 126,000 people died in one hydroelectric dam burst in China in 1975. The 20,000 people killed in Japan were killed by the tsunami, not the Fukushima nuclear plant, yet CNN had a headline during the crisis that read “Nuclear crisis deepens as bodies wash ashore.”
Today Greenpeace’s efforts are largely counter-productive and parasitical on political agendas such as trade disputes. Their vision of a world run on wind and solar energy is a green dream that is actually a green fantasy that is rapidly turning into a green nightmare for ratepayers in the countries that have provided exorbitant subsidies for these technologies which don’t even work most of the time, and then they claim nuclear energy is too expensive.
Cotto: Since leaving Greenpeace, you have continued your environmental activism. How has this come along? Is it easier to accomplish your goals now than it was during your years with Greenpeace?
Dr. Moore: I have said many times that the task of successfully incorporating environmental values into the economic and social fabric of civilization is far moe difficult than popularizing those values in the first place. Sustainable development, or sustainability, requires finding solutions for environmental issue that do not compromise our ability to feed ourselves, provide the energy required for transport, industry, and infrastructure, and obtain the materials (minerals and wood) to build the infrastructure.
The term “sustainable development” did not come into popular usage until 1987 with the publication of the UNCED book “Our Common Future”. It will take 100 years or more to fully implement this idea. In comparison the highlighting of problems such as the threat of nuclear war and the potential extinction of whales was relatively easy. That said I believe there has been tremendous progress towards sustainability: sustainable forestry, ecosystem restoration (reclamation) of mining sites, protection of wild lands, especially wetlands but also all types of ecosystems, drastic reduction in toxic discharge, at least in the developed countries and as other countries develop they will follow suit, a new surge of nuclear energy with 65 plants under construction today and 100s more planned.
My work with Greenspirit Strategies in helping develop sustainability policies for industry and government has contributed to this progress.
Cotto: During the years ahead, what do you think that the greatest challenge will be to environmental sustainability?
Dr. Moore: The elimination of poverty and the slowing of population growth and its eventual stabilization. The key to this is the mechanization of agriculture in the developing countries that still depend on subsistence agriculture. When agriculture is mechanized people have smaller families, the majority of the population can do other things besides growing food, wealth increases as does education and women’s rights (the rich Arabic/Islamist countries being an exception to this trend). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with help from their billionaire friends, is professionalizing international aid and humanitarian work. This will help speed the adoption of modern agricultural techniques, health care, sanitation, education etc. They are not against GMOs or science and technology in general. International aid has been a business good intentions with few qualifications for too long.
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how it was that you came to be such a prominent advocate for the environment. Tell us a bit about your life and career.
Dr. Moore: I was born into a tiny floating village in Winter Harbour on the rugged northwest coast of Vancouver Island. There was no road to my village, only boat traffic and eventually float planes. I grew up playing on the tide flats by the salmon spawning streams in the rainforest. I developed an innate love of nature from early childhood. This eventually transformed into a love of science and my lifelong interest in nature and the environment, and how things work.
I was radicalized at university by the Vietnam War (they call it the American War in Vietnam), the Cold War and the threat of all-out nuclear war, and the damage being caused to the environment. I enrolled in a PhD in ecology before that word was known to the general public. I joined a small group in a church basement and we became Greenpeace.
You might enjoy my recent book if you haven’t seen it, “Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout - The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist”. It is available as a e-book of Amazon.com.
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