“Ah, global warming. Well, we’re going through one of the cooler periods for the planet…It would be wonderful if Canada was a little warmer,” said Patrick Moore, with a wry smile. This was one of the more playful quips told me by one of Greenpeace’s co-founders. He was with me as a speaker in New York for the Congress of Racial Equality’s recent event on “eco-imperialism.”
Patrick Moore, a native of Vancouver, with a PhD in ecology, started the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” in 1971 in his hometown. The Committee was protesting nuclear testing and after considerable success in helping to get hydrogen bomb tests halted, it changed its name to Greenpeace. For the next fifteen years Dr. Moore was an ecologist and activist for the green community. He was famously photographed sitting on a Canadian seal pup to prevent it being clubbed to death. The photo appeared in a staggering 3,000 newspapers around the world and helped to stop the cruel slaughter. Similarly, he was one of those intrepid Greenpeacers in tiny dinghies opposing massive Japanese whalers in the 1970s. The economist in me knows that the arguments and logic that Greenpeace used in those early campaigns was often flawed, but they did tackle serious problems, and made an immediate, and broadly positive, impact.
In 1986 Patrick Moore parted company with his former colleagues. But he implicitly contests the notion that he converted to a more rational environmental ethic. Instead he argues that he left Greenpeace, and the mainstream green movement, because “it lost its science and logic and became driven by something else: an anti-corporate, anti-globalist agenda.”
Maybe the Directors at Greenpeace never understood, or at least never used, much economics, but the organization did concentrate on issues where the science showed there was a problem — unsustainable policies in whaling, fisheries, water abstraction, dumping of toxic waste, nuclear testing, etc.
But then “sometime in the 1980s the green movement lost its way,” says Moore. It culminated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when “an influx of peace activists and Marxist ideologues into the green movement destroyed the remnants of a science-based agenda,” he sadly concludes.
From 1989 onwards, the greens ignored solutions to the problems they had identified, and became more concerned about maintaining problems, so that they could push policy “solutions” that furthered a leftist political agenda.
For example, their de facto demand that nuclear waste never be buried, because it would be toxic for thousands of years, meant it was often shunted around from one location to another, increasing risk. They were concerned far less with nuclear power and its relative safety than with maintaining a debate on whether the West should keep nuclear weapons.
The greens oppose turtle farming and aquaculture, which reduce the burden on wild turtle and fish stocks. Their policy is that we should never eat turtles and only catch a sustainable level of fish from the wild, ignoring the fact that this would mean that only the rich would be able to eat fish as the price would skyrocket. Meanwhile, fish stocks are depleting rapidly.
Dr. Moore is actively involved in promoting fish farming. The ecologist in him points out that food conversion rates in fish are far higher than in land animals. “Since they don’t have to elevate their body temperature and don’t have to fight gravity, fish convert twice to three times as much of their food intake into body mass development than do cows, pigs or chickens,” says Dr. Moore. The result is that far more people can be fed with fish per unit of feed than from meat.
Meanwhile, greens want all farming to be organic, again ignoring the fact that rejecting modern agriculture practices would mean half the world’s population would go unfed (or a new land mass the combined size of Brazil and the U.S. would be required to be turned over to agriculture — destroying millions of square miles of unique ecosystems). Solutions, such as using genetic manipulation techniques that increase crop yields are opposed.
Dr. Moore’s allegation that the greens have run away from science is reinforced in nearly every single green campaign today. The concern over pesticide residues in foods is a good case in point. Pesticides have lowered food costs, especially on fruits and vegetables. Westerners have benefited from this development and today have lower cancer rates because of their ingestion of more fruit and vegetables. According to Professor Bruce Ames, at Berkeley California, pesticides lower cancer risk. But every green campaign from groups like Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Pesticide Action Network, International Pesticide Elimination Network and the rest, complain about the dangers of pesticide residues to humans and children in particular. This scares people from eating pesticide sprayed fruits, indirectly raising cancer risk.
Dr. Moore may have pushed solutions without much care for economics in the past, but he always based his decisions on science. The green movement lost more than a great leader when he quit in 1986. It lost its way.