Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement
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- Subject: Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement
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- Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2001 17:47:11 +1000
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'Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement'
- Patrick Moore, Co-Founder of Greenpeace
>From the March 2000 issue of the Oregon Wheat magazine.
More than twenty years ago I was one of a dozen or so activists who founded
Greenpeace in the basement of the Unitarian Church in Vancouver. The
Vietnam war was raging and nuclear holocaust seemed closer every day. We
linked peace, ecology, and a talent for media communications and went on to
build the world's largest environmental activist organization. By 1986
Greenpeace was established in 26 countries and had an income of over $100
million per year. In 1986 the mainstream of western society was busy
adopting the environmental agenda that was considered radical only fifteen
years earlier. By 1989 the combined impact of Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez,
the threat of global warming and the ozone hole clinched the debate. All
but a handful of reactionaries joined the call for sustainable development
and environmental protection. Whereas previously the leaders of the
environmental movement found themselves on the outside railing at the gates
of power, they were now invited to the table in boardrooms and caucuses
For me, Greenpeace is about ringing an ecological fire alarm, waking mass
consciousness to the true dimensions of our global predicament, pointing
out the problems and defining their nature. Greenpeace doesn't necessarily
have the solutions to those problems and certainly isn't equipped to put
them into practice. That requires the combined efforts of governments,
corporations, public institutions and environmentalists. This demands a
high degree of cooperation and collaboration. The politics of blame and
shame must be replaced with the politics of working together and win-win.
Collaboration versus Confrontation
It was no coincidence that the round-table, consensus-based negotiation
process was adopted by thousands of environmental leaders. It is the
logical tool for working in the new spirit of green cooperation. It may not
be a perfect system for decision-making, but like Churchill said about
democracy, "It's the worst form of government except for all the others". A
collaborative approach promises to give environmental issues their fair
consideration in relation to the traditional economic and social priorities.
Some environmentalists didn't see it that way. Indeed, there had always
been a minority of extremists who took a "No Compromise in Defense of
Mother Nature" position. They were the monkey-wrenchers, tree-spikers and
boat scuttlers of the Earth First! and Paul Watson variety. Considered
totally uncool by the largely pacifist, intellectual mainstream of the
movement, they were a colorful but renegade element.
Since its founding in the late 60's the modern environmental movement had
created a vision that was international in scope and had room for people of
all political persuasions. We prided ourselves in subscribing to a
philosophy that was "trans-political, trans-ideological, and
trans-national" in character. For Greenpeace, the Cree legend "Warriors of
the Rainbow" referred to people of all colors and creeds, working together
for a greener planet. The traditional sharp division between left and right
was rendered meaningless by the common desire to protect our life support
systems. Violence against people and property were the only taboos.
Nonviolent direct action and peaceful civil disobedience were the hallmarks
of the movement. Truth mattered and science was respected for the knowledge
it brought to the debate.
Now this broad-based vision is challenged by a new philosophy of radical
environmentalism. In the name of "deep ecology" many environmentalists have
taken a sharp turn to the ultra-left, ushering in a mood of extremism and
intolerance. As a clear signal of this new agenda, in 1990 Greenpeace
called for a "grassroots revolution against pragmatism and compromise".
As an environmentalist in the political center I now find myself branded a
traitor and a sellout by this new breed of saviors. My name appears in
Greenpeace's "Guide to Anti-Environmental organizations". Even fellow
Greenpeace founder and campaign comrade, Bob Hunter, refers to me as the
"eco-Judas". Yes, I am trying to help the Canadian forest industry improve
its performance so we might be proud of it again. As chair of the Forest
Practices Committee of the Forest Alliance of B.C. I have lead the process
of drafting and implementing the Principles of Sustainable Forestry that
have been adopted by a majority of the industry. These Principles establish
goals for environmental protection, forest management and public
involvement. They are providing a framework for dialogue and action towards
improvements in forest practices.
Why shouldn't I make a contribution to environmental reform in the industry
my grandfather and father have worked in for over 90 years? It's not that I
don't think the environment is in deep trouble. The hole in the ozone is
real and we are overpopulating and overexploiting many of the earth's most
productive ecosystems. I believe this is all the more reason to hang on to
ideas like freedom, democracy, internationalism, and one-human-family. Our
species is probably in for a pretty rough ride during the coming decades.
It would be nice to think we could maintain a semblance of civilization
while we work through these difficult times.
The Rise of Eco-Extremism
Two profound events triggered the split between those advocating a
pragmatic or "liberal" approach to ecology and the new "zero-tolerance"
attitude of the extremists. The first event, mentioned previously, was the
widespread adoption of the environmental agenda by the mainstream of
business and government. This left environmentalists with the choice of
either being drawn into collaboration with their former "enemies" or of
taking ever more extreme positions. Many environmentalists chose the latter
route. They rejected the concept of "sustainable development" and took a
strong "anti-development" stance.Surprisingly enough the second event that
caused the environmental movement to veer to the left was the fall of the
Berlin Wall. Suddenly the international peace movement had a lot less to
do. Pro-Soviet groups in the West were discredited. Many of their members
moved into the environmental movement bringing with them their eco-Marxism
and pro-Sandinista sentiments.
These factors have contributed to a new variant of the environmental
movement that is so extreme that many people, including myself, believe its
agenda is a greater threat to the global environment than that posed by
mainstream society.Some of the features of eco-extremism are:
It is antihuman. The human species is characterized as a "cancer" on the
face of the earth. The extremists perpetuate the belief that all human
activity is negative whereas the rest of nature is good. This results in
alienation from nature and subverts the most important lesson of ecology;
that we are all part of nature and interdependent with it. This aspect of
environmental extremism leads to disdain and disrespect for fellow humans
and the belief that it would be "good" if a disease such as AIDS were to
wipe out most of the population. It is antitechnology and anti-science.
Eco-extremists dream of returning to some kind of technologically primitive
society. Horse-logging is the only kind of forestry they can fully support.
All large machines are seen as inherently destructive and "unnatural'. The
Sierra Club's recent book, "Clear-cut: the Tragedy of Industrial Forestry",
is an excellent example of this perspective. "Western industrial society"
is rejected in its entirety as is nearly every known forestry
Environmental extremists tend to expect the whole world to adopt anarchism
as the model for individual behavior. This is expressed in their dislike of
national governments, multinational corporations, and large institutions of
all kinds. It would seem that this critique applies to all organizations
except the environmental movement itself. Corporations are criticized for
taking profits made in one country and investing them in other countries,
this being proof that they have no "allegiance" to local communities. Where
is the international environmental movements allegiance to local
communities? How much of the money raised in the name of aboriginal peoples
has been distributed to them? How much is dedicated to helping loggers
thrown out of work by environmental campaigns? How much to research
silvicultural systems that are environmentally and economically superior?
It is anti-trade.
Eco-extremists are not only opposed to "free trade" but to international
trade in general. This is based on the belief that each "bioregion" should
be self-sufficient in all its material needs. If it's too cold to grow
bananas - too bad. Certainly anyone who studies ecology comes to realize
the importance of natural geographic units such as watersheds, islands, and
estuaries. As foolish as it is to ignore ecosystems it is absurd to put
fences around them as if they were independent of their neighbors. In its
extreme version, bioregionalism is just another form of ultranationalism
and gives rise to the same excesses of intolerance and xenophobia. It is
anti-free enterprise. Despite the fact that communism and state socialism
has failed, eco-extremists are basically antibusiness. They dislike
"competition" and are definitely opposed to profits. Anyone engaging in
private business, particularly if they are successful, is characterized as
greedy and lacking in morality. The extremists do not seem to find it nec
It is antidemocratic.
This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of radical environmentalism. The
very foundation of our society, liberal representative democracy, is
rejected as being too human-centered". In the name of "speaking for the
trees and other species" we are faced with a movement that would usher in
an era of eco-fascism. The "planetary police" would "answer to no one but
Mother Earth herself".
It is basically anti-civilization.
In its essence, eco-extremism rejects virtually everything about modern
life. We are told that nothing short of returning to primitive tribal
society can save the earth from ecological collapse. No more cities, no
more airplanes, no more polyester suits. It is a naive vision of a return
to the Garden of Eden. As a result of the rise of environmental extremism
it has become difficult for the public, government agencies and industry to
determine which demands are reasonable and which are not. It's almost as if
the person or group that makes the most outrageous accusations and demands
is automatically called "the environmentalist" in the news story. Industry,
no matter how sincere in its efforts to satisfy legitimate environmental
concerns, is branded "the threat to the environment".
Let me give you a few brief examples.
The Brent Spar In 1995, Shell Oil was granted permission by the British
Environment Ministry to dispose of the oil rig Brent Spar in deep water in
the North Sea. Greenpeace immediately accused Shell of using the sea as a
"dustbin". Greenpeace campaigners maintained that there were hundreds of
tones of petroleum wastes on board the Brent Spar and that some of these
were radioactive.They organized a consumer boycott of Shell service
stations, costing the company millions in sales. German Chancellor Helmut
Kohl denounced the British government's decision to allow the dumping.
Caught completely off guard, Shell ordered the tug that was already towing
the rig to its burial site to turn back. They then announced they had
abandoned the plan for deep-sea disposal. This angered British Prime
Minister, John Major.
The Brent Spar was towed into a Norwegian fjord where it remains to this
day. Independent investigation revealed that the rig had been properly
cleaned and did not contain the toxic and radioactive waste claimed by
Greenpeace. Greenpeace wrote to Shell apologizing for the factual error.
But they did not change their position on deep-sea disposal despite the
fact that on-land disposal will cause far greater environmental impact.
During all the public outrage directed against Shell for daring to sink a
large piece of steel and concrete it was never noted that Greenpeace had
purposely sunk its own ship off the coast of New Zealand in 1986. When the
French government bombed and sunk the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour
in 1985, the vessel was permanently disabled. It was later refloated,
patched up, cleaned and towed to a marine park where it was sunk in shallow
water as a dive site. Greenpeace said the ship would be an artificial reef
and would support increased marine life.
The Brent Spar and the Rainbow Warrior are in no way fundamentally
different from one another. The sinking of the Brent Spar could also be
rationalized as providing habitat for marine creatures. It's just that the
public relations people at Shell are not as clever as those at Greenpeace.
And in this case Greenpeace got away with using misinformation even though
they had to admit their error after the fact.
WWF and Species Extinction
In March, 1996, the International Panel on Forests of the United Nations
held its first meeting in Geneva. The media paid little attention to what
appeared to be one more ponderous assemblage of delegates speaking in
unintelligible UN-ese. As it turned out, the big story to emerge from the
meeting had nothing to do with the Panel on Forests itself. In what has
become a common practice, The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) chose to use
the occasion of the UN meeting as a platform for its own news release.
The WWF news release, which was widely picked up by the international
media, made three basic points. They claimed that species were going
extinct at a faster rate now than at any time since the dinosaurs
disappeared 65 million years ago. They said that 50,000 species were now
becoming extinct each year due to human activity. But of most significance
to the subject of forests, WWF claimed that the main cause of species
extinction was "commercial logging", that is, the forest industry. They
provided absolutely no evidence for this so-called fact about logging and
the media asked no hard questions. The next day newspapers around the world
proclaimed the forest industry to be the main destroyer of species.
Since that announcement I have asked on numerous occasions for the name of
a single species that has been rendered extinct due to forestry,
particularly in my home country, Canada. Not one Latin name has been
provided. It is widely known that human activity has been responsible for
the extinction of many species down through history. These extinctions have
been caused by hunting, the conversion of forest and grassland to farming
and human settlement, and the introduction of exotic diseases and
predators. Today, the main cause of species extinction is deforestation,
over 90% of which is caused by agriculture and urban development. Why is
WWF telling the public that logging is the main cause of species extinction?
While I do not wish to guess at the WWF's motivation, it is instructional
to consider the question from a different angle. That is, if forestry does
not generally cause species extinction, what other compelling reason is
there to be against it? Surely the fact that logging is unsightly for a few
years after the trees are cut is not sufficient reason to curtail Canada's
most important industry.
Despite the WWF's failure to support its accusations, the myth that
forestry causes widespread species extinction lives on. How can a largely
urban public be convinced that this is not the case? The challenge is a
daunting one for an industry that has been cast in the role of Darth Vadar
when it should be recognized for growing trees and providing wood, the most
renewable material used in human civilization.
Chlorine in Manufacturing
I don't mean to pick on Greenpeace but they are close to my heart and have
strayed farther from the truth than I can tolerate. In this case the issue
is chlorine, an element that is used in a wide variety of industrial,
medical, and agricultural applications. In 1985 Greenpeace took up the
campaign to eliminate chlorine from all industrial processes, to
essentially remove it from human use despite its enormous benefits to
society. The basis of the campaign was the discovery that the use of
chlorine as a bleaching agent in the pulp and paper industry resulted in
the production of minute quantities of dioxin, some of which ended up in
waste water. The industry responded quickly and within five years of the
discovery had virtually eliminated dioxins by switching to a different form
of chlorine or eliminating chlorine altogether. The addition of secondary
treatment resulted in further improvements.
Independent scientists demonstrated that after these measures were taken,
pulp mills using chlorine had no more environmental impact than those that
used no chlorine. Did Greenpeace accept the science? No, they tried to
discredit the scientists and to this day continue a campaign that is based
more on fear than fact. Its as if chlorine should be banned from the
periodic table of elements altogether so future generations won't know it
This critique of radical environmentalism is nowhere more appropriate than
in the present debate over managing our forests and manufacturing forest
products. Human management of forests is portrayed as somehow "unnatural".
As mentioned before, horse-logging appeals to the extremists because it
uses less technology. My response to this idea is that it would make more
sense for the city people to use horses to get their 150 pound bodies to
work in the morning and let the loggers have the engines from their cars so
they can move the heavy loads in the forest. I suppose this is a result of
my twisted country perspective.
For Greenpeace the zero chlorine campaign was just the beginning. Now
Greenpeace Germany is leading a campaign for a global ban on clear-cutting
in any forest. They want lumber and paper manufacturers to use a label that
states their product is "clear-cut-free". Canada has been chosen as the
target for consumer boycotts because it uses clear-cutting in forestry. It
doesn't matter that the world's most knowledgeable silviculturists believe
that clear-cutting is the most appropriate form of harvesting in many types
of forest. It doesn't matter that most forestry in Germany is by the
clear-cut method, they want to boycott us anyway. What matters is that it
makes a good fund-raising campaign in Europe.The public is unaware of the
basic flaws in the Greenpeace campaign to end
clear-cutting worldwide. They do not realize that there is no clear
definition of the term "clear-cutting" and that Greenpeace refuses to
engage in a dialogue to determine the precise nature of what it is they are
opposed to. It is also not widely realized that there is no such thing as a
supply of pulp and paper that is "clear-cut-free". The practice of
clear-cutting is so widespread that it would be impossible to obtain a
supply of wood chips that came from forests where only single-tree
selection forestry is practised.
Perhaps the most cynical aspect of the Greenpeace campaign is their
assertion that forests are clear-cut in British Columbia to make tissue
paper and toilet paper for Europeans. They use the slogan "When you blow
your nose in Europe you are blowing away the ancient forests of Canada" to
imply that Europeans could save Canadian forests if they would stop buying
tissue made from Canadian pulp.Everyone who has studied Canadian forestry,
including Greenpeace, knows that the pulp and paper industry in British
Columbia is based entirely on the waste products of the sawmilling
industry. The forests are harvested to supply high value solid wood for
furniture, interior woodwork and construction. Only the wastes from making
lumber and those logs that are unsuitable for sawmilling are made into
pulp. If we did not make pulp from these wastes they would have to be
burned or left to rot as was the case in the past.
Rather than promoting unilateral boycotts that are based on misinformation
and coercion, organizations like Greenpeace should recognize the need for
internationally accepted criteria for sustainable forestry and forest
products manufacturing. Through dialogue and international cooperation it
would be possible to achieve agreement and end the unfair practice of
singling out an individual nation for sanctions. Unfortunately they have
now joined in the effort to spoil an International Convention on Forests.
Their reasons for opposing a convention are not valid and amount to a
transparent front for a strong anti-forestry attitude.
It is not reasonable to expect the environmental movement to drop its
extremist agenda overnight. The rise of extremism is a major feature of the
movement's evolution and is now deeply embedded in its political structure.
We can hope that as time passes the movement will be retaken by more
politically centrist, science-based leaders and that the extreme wing will
be marginalized. At the same time, we must remember that most of the larger
environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, the
Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council etc. do have many
members and campaign teams that are reasonable and based on good science.
It's just that for the time being, major elements of their organizations
have been hijacked by people who are politically motivated, lack science,
and are often using the rhetoric of environmentalism to promote other
causes such as class struggle and anti-corporatism.
The only way industry can successfully help to promote a more pragmatic and
reasonable environmental movement is to prove that it is willing and able
to avoid future damage to the environment and to correct past abuses. In
other words, if your house is in order, there will be little or nothing for
extremists to use as a reason for taking an essentially "anti-industry"
The challenge for environmental leaders is to resist the path of ever
increasing extremism and to know when to talk rather than fight. To remain
credible and effective they must reject the antihuman, anarchistic
approach. This is made difficult by the fact that many individuals and
their messengers, the media, are naturally attracted to confrontation and
sensation. It isn't easy to get excited about a committee meeting when you
could be bringing the state to its knees at a blockade.
The best approach to our present predicament is to recognize the validity
of both the bioregional and the global visions for social and environmental
sustainability. Issues such as overpopulation and sustainable forest
practices require international agreements. Composting of food wastes and
bicycle repairs are best accomplished locally. We must think and act both
globally and locally, always cognizant of impacts at one level caused by
actions at another. Extremism that rejects this approach will only bring
disaster to all species, including humans.
For more information on this subject, please visit the author's web site