National Post – March 22, 2011
From Greenpeace founder to nuclear defender
Kevin Libin, National Post • Mar. 22, 2011
In his shaggy-haired hippie youth, Patrick Moore was one of the nuclear energy industry’s most dauntless opponents. Today, he’s taking calls from reporters around the world and trying to defend its reputation in the panicky wake of the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant.
In the ’70s, as one of the founding members, and later president of Greenpeace, Mr. Moore’s fellow activists parachuted into Ontario’s Darlington nuclear plant to protest its construction; 37 years later, he’s infuriated with the organization for exploiting the Japanese nuclear crisis to scare Ontario’s government away from building more reactors there. Mr. Moore knows this mistaken thinking started with him. And he regrets it.
“We made the mistake of lumping nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons,” says Mr. Moore. The group he helped build wasn’t originally just about being green, it was also about peace, after all. Greenpeace opposed the arms race, and was committed to ensuring that nothing like Hiroshima and Nagasaki could happen again.
But Mr. Moore eventually realized nuclear energy was the wrong target. It was comparatively benign, environmentally, and arguably more conducive to peace than oil bought from detestable regimes.
But his fellow Greenpeacers refused to agree with that, or other conclusions Mr. Moore began to draw that he says were based on reason rather than emotion. It’s why, eventually, he had to quit. And it’s why he’ll be in Toronto Wednesday promoting, at a Fraser Institute dinner, his new book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist, in which he celebrates all the things he’s proud to have accomplished with Greenpeace — and publicly lament the many dangerous mistakes he believes the organization has made since he left.
Early in the book, Mr. Moore explains how it was his willingness to stand up for science in the face of political interests that first sparked his activism: as a PhD student in ecology at UBC, he researched the regulatory proposal of a mining firm digging copper near his family’s logging village home on Vancouver Island. The company wanted to dump 40,000 tons of tailings daily into Rupert Inlet, insisting they would settle harmlessly. Mr. Moore’s research showed otherwise. Despite the pressure the province, which wanted the $3-billion mine, put on the school, the warnings he’d be unemployable after graduation, and the mining company hiring two professors on Mr. Moore’s thesis committee, he stood by his research. “I was a radical environmental activist and it all happened because I cared more about science than politics,” he writes.
Ironically, today’s “radical environmentalists” he says are anti-science, even anti-human — judging our species less worthy than any other. He left Greenpeace when it began fighting fish farms, where he saw plenty of evidence they could reduce the environmental problem of overfished oceans while helping feed the world, and no evidence of ecological dangers. Around the same time, it demanded a worldwide ban on chlorine. “It didn’t matter that about 85% of our medicines are manufactured with chlorine chemistry, or that the addition of chlorine to drinking water represented the biggest advance in the history of public health,” he writes. His comrades, none of whom had science backgrounds, but were increasingly former Soviet apologists left purposeless as worldwide communism began to dissolve, called chlorine the “devil’s element.” It was clear they were more interested in scaring people with “a religion based on belief rather than facts or evidence,” he says. The way Greenpeace has responded to the Fukushima reactor situation — aggressively exploiting fears of a nuclear catastrophe to demand the cancelation of all nuclear projects — is, he observes, just more of the same.
“They’re scaring the bejeezus of everybody for no good reason,” he says.
Japan has handled the crisis spectacularly, and not a single death’s resulted yet from Fukushima. Despite a nightmarish earthquake and tsunami, the plant “poses no threat to us and so far poses no threat to the general population of Japan, who’ve all been evacuated from closeby and none of them have received anything like a harmful dose of radiation.”
Yet, if Greenpeace succeeds in irrationally frightening the world with Fukushima, the result will only be more pollution from burning fossil fuels.
Mr. Moore, co-chairman of the pro-nuclear Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, was one of the first prominent environmentalists to support nuclear power, though he’s been joined in recent years by many others. On Tuesday, respected British environmentalist George Monbiot announced himself “converted” to supporting nuclear after Fukushima: Compared to the net effects of fossil fuels, wind farms and solar panels, “atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small,” he declared.
Mr. Moore devotes half his book to meticulously countering a catalogue of other misguided pop-green causes. He defends the lumber industry in the name of true “sustainability,” arguing that foresters have planted more trees than they’ve cut, a far better outcome than anything that comes from construction using concrete and steel; he finds wind and solar power largely useless (though he’s a big fan of geothermal heat); supports the oil sands; champions pesticides and genetically modified crops as answers to over farming the land; and even concedes skepticism about the supposed dangers of climate change.
He doesn’t think all environmentalists are as deluded as Greenpeace, though he names a few — the World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, David Suzuki — that imagine a “fairy tale world” where we all live as peasants and “nothing is toxic,” which guarantees only a medieval quality of life. (Toxic things, after all, are what we use to protect humans from pathogens.) “They don’t answer to anyone,” he says, and so are free to take whatever extreme, unjustifiable positions they choose.
Since Mr. Moore’s defection, eventually forming Greenspirit Strategies, a Vancouver firm doing sustainability consulting, Greenpeace has tried blacklisting him. It airbrushed him out of the group’s origin story, though Mr. Moore successfully fought to get his name back on its website, and dismisses him as a corporate shill. The Forest Action Network started a website: “Patrick Moore is a Big Fat Liar.”
To Mr. Moore, these attacks feel bigger than a debate over this or that resource policy. Green dogma, he thinks, is winning a war with rationality. The Stalinists and the Nazis idealized the fraudulent theories of Lysenkoism and Aryanism over Western and so-called Jewish science, and they exiled legitimate researchers who dissented, he recalls. He’s worried. “A new intellectual dark age is just around the corner.”
Although partly, if unwittingly, responsible for possibly unleashing that, Mr. Moore doesn’t regret helping start Greenpeace. He’s proud a once-small group once achieved so much in combating nuclear testing and whale hunts. Now that it’s Big Environmentalism that he’s up against, he’s just trying to keep up what he started four decades ago: striking a blow for science over politics.