Environmental movement vs sustainable development ??

May 4, 2005

I am often asked why I broke ranks with Greenpeace after fifteen years as a founder and full-time environmental activist. While I had my personal reasons – spending more time with a growing family rather than living out of a suitcase most of the year – it was on issues of policy that I found it necessary to move on.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Greenpeace, and much of the environmental movement, made a sharp turn to the political left and began adopting extreme agendas that abandoned science and logic in favour of emotion and sensationalism. I became aware of the emerging concept of sustainable development – the idea that environmental, social, and economic priorities could be balanced. I became a convert to the idea that win-win solutions could be found by bringing all interests together around the same table. I made the move from confrontation to consensus.

Since then, I have worked under the banner of Greenspirit to develop an environmental policy platform based on science, logic, and the recognition that more than six billion people need to survive and prosper, every day of the year. The environmental movement has lost its way, favouring political correctness over factual accuracy, stooping to scare tactics to garner support. Many campaigns now waged in the name of the environment would result in increased harm to both the environment and human welfare if they were to succeed.

So we’re faced with environmental policies that ignore science and result in increased risk to human health and ecology. To borrow from the vernacular, how sick is that?
Genetic Enhancement:

Activists persist in their zero-tolerance campaign against genetically enhanced varieties of food crops when there is zero evidence of harm to human health or the environment, and the benefits are measurable and significant. Genetically enhanced (GE) food crops result in reduced chemical pesticides, higher yield, and reduced soil erosion. Golden Rice, for example, could prevent blindness in 500,000 children per year in Asia and Africa if activists would stop blocking its introduction. Other varieties of food crops will contain iron, Vitamin E, enhanced protein and better oils. No other technology can match the potential of GE to address the nutritional deficiencies of billions of people. The anti-GE campaign seeks to deny these environmental and nutritional advances by using “Frankenfood” scare tactics and misinformation campaigns.

Greenpeace wants to ban the use of chlorine in all industrial processes, yet the addition of chlorine to drinking water has been the single greatest public health advance in history, and 75% of our medicines are based on chlorine chemistry. My old Greenpeace colleagues also call for a ban on polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), claiming it is the “poison plastic”. There is not a shred of evidence that vinyl damages human health or the environment. Apart from its cost-effectiveness in construction, and ability to deliver safe drinking water, vinyl’s ability to incorporate anti-microbial properties is critical to fighting germs in hospitals. Banning vinyl would further raise the cost of an already struggling health care system, ultimately denying health care to those who can least afford it.
Hydro Electricity:

International activists boast they have blocked more than 200 hydroelectric dams in the developing world and are campaigning to tear down existing dams. Hydro is the largest source of renewable electricity, providing about 12% of global supply. Do activists prefer coal plants? Would they rather ignore the needs of billions of people?
Wind Power:

Wind power is commercially feasible, yet activists argue the turbines kill birds and ruin landscapes. A million times more birds are killed by cats, windows and cars than by all the windmills in the world. As for aesthetics, wind turbines are works of art compared to some of our urban environments.
Nuclear Power:

A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions seems unlikely given our continued heavy reliance on fossil fuel consumption. Even UK environmentalist James Lovelock, who posited the Gaia theory that the Earth operates as a giant, self-regulating super-organism, now sees nuclear energy as key to our planet’s future health. Lovelock says the first world behaves like an addicted smoker, distracted by short-term benefits and ignorant of long-term risk. “Civilization is in imminent danger,” he warns, “and has to use nuclear – the one safe, available energy source – or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.”

Yet environmental activists, notably Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, continue to lobby against clean nuclear energy, and in favour of the band-aid Kyoto Treaty. We can agree renewable energies, such as wind, geothermal and hydro are part of the solution. But nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.

Anti-forestry activists are telling us to stop cutting trees and to reduce our use of wood. Forest loss, or deforestation, is nearly all caused by clearing forests for farms and cities. Forestry operations, on the other hand, are geared towards reforestation and the maintenance of forest cover. Forests are stable and growing where people use the most wood, and are diminishing where they use less. When we use wood, we send a signal to the marketplace to plant more trees and produce more wood. North Americans use more wood per capita than any other continent, yet there is about the same forest area in North America today as there was 100 years ago.

Trees, and the materials they produce, are by far the most abundant, renewable and biodegradable resource in the world. If we want to retain healthy forests, we should be growing more trees and using more wood, not less. This seems lost on activists who use chilling rhetoric and apocalyptic images to drive us in the wrong direction.
The Prognosis:

Environmentalism has turned into anti-globalisation and anti-industry. Activists have abandoned science in favour of sensationalism. Their zero-tolerance, fear-mongering campaigns would ultimately prevent a cure for Vitamin A deficiency blindness, increase pesticide use, increase heart disease, deplete wild salmon stocks, raise the cost and reduce the safety of health care, raise construction costs, deprive developing nations of clean electricity, stop renewable wind energy, block a solution to global warming, and contribute to deforestation. How sick is that?

Co-founder of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore is Chairman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada. www.greenspiritstrategies.com.

Related to this, in an article Death of the Movement, Lawrence Solomon, Executive Director of Urban Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute – divisions of Toronto-based Energy Probe Research Foundation, refers to a 12,000 word critique of the environmental movement by Shellenberger & Nordhaus. He wrote:

The authors correctly identify one great cause of environmentalists’ failure – “as a community, environmentalists suffer from a bad case of groupthink.” Speaking from my own experiences, where once environmentalists challenged orthodoxy and accepted free markets, privatization, property rights and other approaches that would accomplish their goals, today’s environmentalists are no longer free-thinking – they have become ideologues who care more about socialism and political correctness than getting to the nub of problems, and who dismiss contrary opinions out of hand. As Shellenberger told Grist, an activist magazine, “There is no place for public debate in the environmental movement. Even librarians have much fiercer public debates and dialogues than the environmental community.”