Book review: Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout

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.

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25 thoughts on “Book review: Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout”

  1. What a great review. Thanks for that Robin. It’s good to hear of responsible environmentalism rather than the knee-jerk left-wing sloganeering so prevalent these days.

    1. Started out good but became warped. Read the book, especially the bit on trying to ban chlorine. Complete inability to weigh up risks and benefits. Their successful lobbying to ban DDT to control malaria is estimated to have cost millions of lives despite ample scientific evidence that it is not toxic when used properly. Greenpeace’s zero tolerance of many common chemicals has no scientific basis and has been profoundly harmful. I was shocked.

      1. A quick scan through the Wikipedia article on DDT suggests that agricultural over-use led to DDT resistance in mosquitoes, and that this was a major reason why the use of DDT was abandoned for wide scale malaria control.

        You have said that DDT is not toxic when used properly. Poorly educated farmers living in countries that have little or no regard for health and safety are not likely to pay heed to good practise. They are unlikely to read the instructions and use insecticides properly. The scientific basis may be sound, but from the practical point of human behaviour the situation may well be different.

      2. TBH, I’m not going to repeat all the arguments in the book. Worth reading and making your own judgement, which might well be different from mine.

  2. Sounds like a great book, I find Greenpeace one of the most wilfully ignorant, scare-mongering groups in the world today, almost up there with the Westboro Baptist church 🙂 And I had heard before that the original founder had left over his dismay at the way the group was going. Will definitely put it on the ‘to read’ list.

  3. I’d read it buy I wouldn’t buy it. 😉 (I’m not a member of any environmental groups unless you count the National Trust or the RSPB oh and full disclosure, Alan will be glad to know I’m back working for oil companies).

    A day or two of background reading and I think he seems to have become more of a paid lobbyist than an environmentalist/ecologist of any creed. The fact he is a salmon farmer initially rings bells, there aren’t many good stories about that industry and native wild stocks. And DDT and malaria is interesting too as I type this from west Africa.

    I’ll look out fr it at boot sales!

    1. He replies comprehensively to the allegations of salmon farming. Fish are two to three times more efficient than warm blooded creatures at converting food to protein, hence very attractive. Given the problems and resource inputs in raising livestock, he deserves a hearing.

      I feel he has more credibility, having been in the ecology movement. The problem with Greenpeace is that it objects to everything and promotes an absurd zero tolerance policy on many things. One member has even said that it would be good if the human population were reduced to 1 billion. Genocide anyone?

  4. I might just look this out. I would consider myself an environmentalist, but am certainly no supporter of Greenpeace or other environmental groups precisely because of the impractical and often illogical stances they adopt on a variety of subjects.

    True, campaigning is good – often necessary – or many of the irreplacable things we hold dear might be lost forever. But their blind, idealogical approach to campaigning, simply adopting the opposite stance regardless, often seems no better informed or motivated than the politicians they seek to challenge, however good their intentions might be.

  5. Yes fish are an efficient provider of protein. However, the guy takes an anthropocentric stance on issues which is not where most environmentalists come from but more the position of the industries he represents. It doesn’t alter the fact that fish farming whilst efficient at delivering an end product does so at a cost to the natural environment in which they are placed,

    1. You could say that about any type of farming. Arguably it is better than land based farming as the sea is more efficient at neutralising and cleansing waste. Fish don’t emit as much methane as cows 🙂

      Are you advocating going back to hunter gathering? Is an anthropocentric viewpoint wrong? Perhaps it balances the anthropophobic mindset of many environmentalists who seem to regard the human race as evil or a virus.

  6. There’s too many people to effectively be hunter gatherers! 🙂 Plus it takes up soo much time.
    The viewpoint isn’t necessarily wrong but too much of a utilitarian stance cannot be good can it?
    The thing with salmon fisheries is they aren’t in the open ocean, they are in Lochs and estuaries where bioaccumulation is a well recorded fact. The farmed salmon carry pests and diseases which have limited effect on them because of the amount of feed and drugs they get. They then escape – the holding nets regularly develop holes and pass the diseases onto the wild fish decimating their numbers. Meanwhile the seabed below the farms develop a gelatinous algae layer from the waste food and fish droppings. Now how bad this is is a matter of conjecture but I’m sure a guy running a salmon fishery isn’t going to publicly have an issue with it, is he?

    1. You might want to read the book as those issues are addressed (all with references). Lochs are tidal which means every day they are flushed. Also the waste from the fish provides food for crustaceans. Is the “damage” to a loch worse than the monoculture of wheat production of the great plains or intensive pig farming? It’s all a matter of degree and perspective. Don’t forget, the oceans account for two thirds of the earth. Isn’t it better to farm fish resources than destroy the natural fish populations by over fishing?

  7. Estuaries and bays are tidal too, didn’t stop accumulation of heavy metals and anti fouling paints from contaminating shell fish, likewise sewage which meant every beach in the UK failed water standards when they were introduced. it wasn’t until bans on chemicals and a massive spend on sewage treatment systems that things like this improved.
    Over fishing has little to do with salmon though which is the most commonly farmed fish and a lot more to do with ill conceived policies and poor governance.
    The great Plains is an interesting point. Presently the mid-west USA is suffering the worst conditions since the dustbowls of the 30’s, you reap what you sow!
    Intensive pig farming is bad but in many ways similar to salmon farming. Protein rich diets and antibiotics to stop sub-clinical illness so they don’t go off their food and pile the weight on.
    I think the fact is there are no easy solutions and intensive agriculture and animal husbandry can have adverse effects whatever the product.

    1. Fish farming might be the least bad option. It seems to me there’s a world of difference between the dumping of toxic chemicals and sewage in estuaries and fish farming in lochs.

      The problem is that you end up banning everything if you object to any change in the environment. The environmental zealots seem to want the extinction of the human race.

      Perhaps you should read the book before you rubbish his views 😉

      1. If we don’t protect the environment or manage our natural resources sustainably the human race will be risking extinction!

        You are keen to criticise scaremongering environmental zealots, but what about the companies who spend vast advertising budgets telling us how great their products are, without telling us about the environmental costs of the products that they are selling us? Their advertisements overstate product benefits, in an equal but opposite way to scaremongering, they are joymongering. If you own product x everyone will think you’re successful and you’ll be really happy. They’ll make us feel good for now, but somewhere down the line, someone will have to pay the costs of our current environmental pollution. Just as we are still paying for pollution caused during the industrial revolution. In the long term it costs us less not to pollute in the first place.

        It is unrealistic to think that Greenpeace will be able to completely stop the use of toxic chemicals, so it doesn’t really matter if that is their end goal. What is important is that their current activities expose companies which are major polluters and/or which destroy the environment. Often operating overseas where there are fewer regulations, these companies get away with causing pollution which would not be tolerated in the developed world. Someone needs to stand up to these companies because they won’t regulate themselves.

        Incidentally, I’m a Greenpeace supporter but that does not mean I agree with everything that they stand for. What is important to me is that Greenpeace are bringing our attention to environmental issues that we would otherwise be unaware of.

        Changing subject to intensive pig farming, which is mentioned in some the other comments, the welfare of these animals is something that should be taken into account. Animals are sentient beings. They feel pain. Intensive farming usually means that animals spend their entire lives in cramped, unnatural conditions and often in prolonged pain. The existence of intensive animals farms demonstrates a complete lack of human compassion of which we should be very ashamed.

      2. I am certainly not against campaigning and believe views have a right to be heard. My concern is that an increasingly non-scientific approach is being adopted. GM crops is a good example where scaremongering appears to have taken over from a rational assessment of risks and benefits.

        You are absolutely right that commercial conflicts of interests should be taken into account. However, there appears to be an automatic assumption that “green” companies shouldn’t be subject to the same scrutiny as other enterprises. The wind power lobby is a good case.

        I do very much agree on animal husbandry. Factory farming is not something I feel comfortable about. We are increasingly moving to fish as a source of protein as a family and away from red meat. Hence my interest in the debate on fish farms.

        Please don’t think that I am against everything “environmentalists” are concerned about. However, I was shocked at the lack of a rigorous scientific basis for many campaigns e.g. chlorine.

      3. On the subject of animal husbandry; pigs, chickens and rabbits suffer the worst treatment on intensive farms. To ensure that good animal husbandry has been applied, I would recommend buying meat that is certified by the Soil Association or RSPCA Freedom Food.

        For fish, the Marine Stewardship Council certify fish from sustainable fisheries. It is also worth looking at the Fish Fight website (http://www.fishfight.net/recipes/) which has recipes for sustainable fish species. In the UK we mainly eat cod, tuna and salmon, but there are many other fish species caught in our waters. These are often available at lower prices due to lower demand.

  8. “’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).”

    I think Bernie & Wurz may fall into this category? Well intentioned, but incapable of seeing the wood for the trees.
    🙂

  9. Ah – the Grauniad. The fount of all environmental bollox. I shall waste no time in reading that then… Wurz on his usual ploy of yanking the conversation down a blind alley. 🙂

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