Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: the Making of a Sensible Environmentalist by Patrick Moore
Patrick Moore (not the astronomer!) is a controversial figure in environmentalist circles. He was one of the founders of Greenpeace and instrumental in their early campaigns against nuclear weapons testing and whaling. He was brought up in a rural backwater in British Columbia and achieved a PhD in ecology, both of which inform his views of the environment and biosphere.
However, in the mid 1980s, he found himself at odds with the increasingly political, militant and anti-science views of Greenpeace. The catalyst for his departure was its decision to campaign against the use of chlorine. Chlorine is probably the most important chemical for both public health (in water treatment) and in medicine. Moore believed that a rigorous scientific case for banning was lacking and that a zero tolerance policy risked millions of deaths, so he resigned. Interestingly, by that time, he was the only senior officer within Greenpeace with a scientific background and qualification.
After leaving Greenpeace, he started a fish farm. He was also drawn to engage with governments and corporations in a more constructive way, rejecting the increasingly confrontational policies of Greenpeace. His interest in sustainable development drew him into shaping forestry policy in British Columbia and into conflict with his erstwhile colleagues. From then on, he was a marked man, subject to character assassination and stunts like dumping horse manure in his front garden.
This book is part autobiography and part explanation of why he believes what he believes. His transition from confrontational activist to a more considered and conciliatory approach is an interesting study in itself. He is still passionately interested in protecting the environment, but he is a realist and not opposed to economic development, particularly for the underdeveloped world. It is refreshing to read an environmentalist who believes that man’s contribution to the environment can be positive rather than viewing mankind as some kind of evil virus that needs to be extirpated.
The second part of the book examines in short, but forensic detail many of the shibboleths of Greenpeace and the wider environmentalist movement. Successively he demolishes Greenpeace’s opposition to the forestry industry, aquaculture, hydroelectricity, nuclear energy and genetically modified crops. His scientific background in ecology makes him particularly persuasive on global warming, its consequences and the renewable energy movement.
I’m sure that Greenpeace supporters won’t buy this book on principle as it reveals in an unflattering light how it has been increasingly railroaded into confrontational and absurd positions by political extremists. Nor will they be persuaded by the rebuttal of many of its policy stances (all supported with copious references, incidentally).
However, for those with more open minds and who are interested in examining the arguments raging in the debate on environmental issues, I highly recommend this book. The autobiographical section is a great story. The second section is well written with enough information to understand the issues, but not so much to be overwhelmed. It is also a book that holds out hope that mankind can overcome the problems we face, as long as we apply a rational scientific approach rather than sloganeering and posturing.