Who is the sensible environmentalist?

Two founders of Greenpeace, now on opposite sides of the fence, conduct a fascinating debate over climate change.
Patrick Moore | 2 April 2011
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In February, MercatorNet published a controversial article by Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace in which he explained why he had turned his back on the organisation and its key policies. Rex Weyler, a director of the original Greenpeace Foundation and author of a history of the organisation, plans to respond. Below is a debate between the two men which summarises many of the key disputes over climate change policies.

* * * * *

Rex Weyler: Patrick, I’ve had some requests to comment on your book. So far, I’ve avoided critiquing your ideas in public, out of deference for our friendship. You know from our discussions over beer that I disagree with most of your positions, but now that you’re in print, your ideas bear some scrutiny.  As you know, you’re getting plenty of praise from the usual suspects, National Post, Fox News, etc, so you certainly have your backers.

Patrick Moore: My new book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist, was debuted in the Vancouver Sun, has been reviewed by the Calgary Herald, featured on many radio talk shows such as Mike Smyth on CKNW, and in the Toronto Star, hardly a bastion of the right. I do regular interviews on National Public Radio in the US and with Bloomberg News. I also take interviews with Fox Business News and the National Post. If you refer only to the conservative outlets that are interested, then you are hardly producing a balanced critique.

Rex Weyler: I’m sending you this note as a heads up that I may appear in print with a more critical review of your ideas.

Patrick Moore: Thank you for doing so. Has Greenpeace asked you to critique my new book? In other words, should I be expecting the Greenpeace party line from you? Or a more sensible approach?

Rex Weyler: My main objection is that there remains a considerable gap between the scientific data before us and your analysis of that data.

Patrick Moore: You mean like the considerable gap between your certainty about human-caused climate change and the lack of scientific data to prove such a claim? I give plenty of examples where the extent of our knowledge is insufficient to warrant certitude, climate being the main one. As Michael Crichton said “I am certain there is too much certainty in the world.” So I don’t really see what you are getting at here. Is it not more a question as to which set of uncertainties one takes issue with?

Rex Weyler: You portray yourself as “sensible” and disparage all non-corporate environmentalists, but you don’t act scientific. You employ rhetorical devices such as: “There is no alarm about climate change,” since “the climate is always changing.” I’m sure this plays well at corporate speaking gigs, but you should google the fallacy of “misplaced concreteness.” I assume you are aware that you erroneously presume a word means the same thing in different contexts.

Patrick Moore: I hardly think Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, is a corporate environmentalist, more of a loveable hippie with a big brain. Do you think Bjorn Lomborg is “corporate”. I don’t agree with either Brand or Lomborg on everything but at least they cause me to think rather than people who repeat a memorized party-line. I also admire James Lovelock even though I find him enigmatic. All three of these environmentalists that I admire are non-corporate. Which “corporate environmentalists” am I allegedly admiring?

I believe I am sensible and have been all my life, as in common sense. But I suppose that is a matter of opinion.

As to acting “scientific” the highest duty of a scientist is to retain a healthy scepticism about all hypotheses, especially regarding subjects that have many variables like climate. I think you are aware that I hold an Honours BSc in Biology and Forest Biology, a PhD in Ecology, an Honorary Doctorate of Science and have received the  the US National Award for Nuclear Science and History from the Einstein Society, affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute. Would this not make me at least as credible as any member of the IPCC?

If you are referring to the word “climate” you must elaborate as I fail to understand what you mean here. First, you have added in the word “since,” which makes my statement a syllogism. When you do write your critique of my new book, I do hope you will not manipulate my words in that way.

Second, I did not say “there is no alarm about climate change,” but that “there is no REASON FOR alarm about climate change.” The fact that there is such alarm I blame in part on Greenpeace itself.

And finally, as to the “misplaced concreteness”, I refer to climate as a scientific subject, measurable and real. Following Alfred North Whitehead’s definition of this fallacy, I see no misplaced concreteness there.

My belief that there is no reason for alarm has no bearing on the fact that the climate is always changing. I can imagine the public outcry when you accuse me of “misplaced concreteness”, Lordy Lordy.

You and your allies love to use the words “corporate” and “industry” as if they are epithets, swear words, put-downs, etc. with the implication that something sinister is going on. My public appearances are in public, usually with media present.

Rex Weyler: You make claims that have been refuted by the people you reference. This may be okay over a beer, but seems reckless in print. You say DDT was “discontinued for use in malaria control by the World Health Organization and USAID.” But surely you know that WHO and USAID representatives have already told George Monbiot that they never stopped using DDT for malaria control. (“A Charming Falsehood,” The Guardian). Why would you restate this, knowing that WHO and USAID have refuted it?

Patrick Moore: I have provided you with a link to the UN media release titled, “Reversing Its Policy, UN Agency Promotes DDT to Combat the Scourge of Malaria,” UN News Center, September 15, 2006.” Here is the link again where the WHO announces that it is reversing its policy to discontinue the use of DDT after nearly 30 years.

USAID made the same decision in 2006. This reversal stemmed from the negotiations towards the Stockholm Convention on toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative chemicals which, in the end, despite strong opposition from Greenpeace and WWF, provided an exemption for DDT use for malaria control.

I realize there is a major effort at Greenpeace to rewrite the history on this subject as I have been informed by a Greenpeace spokesperson in the UK that “Greenpeace was never opposed to the use of DDT for malaria control.” This has to be one of the most blatant examples of historical revisionism I have encountered. Of course there are other examples, such as their contention that I “played a minor role in the early years” etc. I hope you are not buying into that one. Anyway, if you trust George Monbiot as a reliable source then you’ll get a lot of things wrong, although on nuclear power, he has come a long way in his understanding. Have you noted that George has come out in favor of nuclear energy this week?

And who knows, maybe the WHO and USAID are also trying to cover their tracks. After all it does not look good that health and aid agencies were implicated in the unnecessary deaths of millions of people because they caved into political pressure against DDT in the ’70s.

Rex Weyler: When you claim, “global temperature stopped rising 12 to 15 years ago,” you confuse a routine fluctuation with an irrefutable trend. You should know the difference. You must know that trend analysis uses running averages (as with stock prices to gauge a trend) and that fluctuations in either direction do not “stop” a trend. Surely you know that since 1880, global running-average temperature has risen from about 13.7° C to 14.6° C. You must know the data that shows human-waste gases in the atmosphere as the primary forcing, and the solar force fluctuations at about one-thirtieth of the human greenhouse gas force. Even if you had some evidence that these data should be questioned, the scientific thing to do is to reference the prevailing data in your critique.

Patrick Moore: I am not even slightly confused. Fluctuations in climate are not “routine”. It is true that there has been an upward trend in global temperature since about 1800 when the Little Ice Age ended. There have been ups and downs along the way. As you know the last upward trend was between 1970-1998. Since then there has been no further rise in temperature, perhaps a slight decline. That is all I said.

The main point is that neither you nor I know with any certainty what will happen next. What goes up tends to eventually come down as has been the case with global climate from the beginning of life. I personally believe that it would be much better in balance if the temperature rose 2°-3°C than if it fell 2°-3°C. “You should know the difference” is condescending. And despite all this it still doesn’t prove that we are responsible for the recent rise in temperature. Temperature has been rising and falling for billions of years and it had nothing to do with us.

Then what does it take to “stop” a trend? What caused the present Ice Age to set on 2.5 million years ago? And what caused the wild fluctuations of massive glaciations that have come and gone many times since then? Were these “routine fluctuations”? Do you believe that CO2 and other greenhouse gasses are always the main factors that cause the climate to change?

Part of the “prevailing data” is that it hasn’t continued to warm over the past decade despite ever-increasing emissions of CO2.

Rex Weyler: Still to this day, although I’ve asked you half a dozen times, you’ve never sent me your list of climate forcings (w/m2) selected by level of impact. This is so simple and scientific. Why won’t you send it to me? (see links below).

Patrick Moore: That’s because I do not believe the highly complex subject of global climate can be reduced to “w/m2″ so I am not interested in that approach. There is nothing simple about climate but there is something simplistic about thinking you can predict the climate by one little formula. Are you saying that you, personally, have determined the precise causes of global warming? Or are you just relying on someone else’s calculations?

Interestingly, James Lovelock, who, as you know, is a strong supporter of nuclear energy, has recently suggested that perhaps the reason we are putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is Gaia’s way of staving off another Ice Age. Again, there is nothing ‘simple’ about any of this, Rex.

Rex Weyler: Likewise with nuclear power. I understand it’s your job to promote nukes, and that’s fair enough, but in a public forum, in print, you should at least reference dissenting data. For example: Mark Jacobson’s Stanford University study (which I sent to you) that compares the lifetime CO2 emissions of energy sources and found nuclear to be the highest non-hydrocarbon option, emitting between six and 60-times more carbon than wind and concentrated solar. (Mark Jacobson, Stanford University, a “Review of Global Warming Solutions”). Even if you don’t understand why, or haven’t done the supply chain analysis, or find some reason to disagree, the scientific thing would be to cite this study, and then give your data that might alter the conclusions.

Patrick Moore: It is my job to promote nuclear energy because I decided that was what I wanted to do. I believe it will be a very important source of energy for centuries to come. Mark Jacobson’s paper does not impress me. His description of nuclear energy was obviously cribbed from Wikipedia, and even then he gets it completely wrong. He states that, “When the fragments (fission products) and the gamma rays collide with water in a reactor, they respectively convert kinetic energy and electromagnetic energy to heat, boiling the water.” (my insertion in parentheses). I’m sure you know that the fission products do not “collide with water” in a reactor.

Jacobson provides a table of CO2 emissions for selected technologies on page 11 of the paper you cite. You will note that the “lifecycle” emissions for nuclear are comparable to solar panels and hydroelectric, not 6-60 times greater as you allege. The way the Jacobson inflates the nuclear numbers is by charging the nuclear industry with emissions from fossil fuel plants that occur during the construction of a reactor. (Opportunity Cost Emissions Due to Delays). This is patently ridiculous and is certainly not part of the nuclear life-cycles emissions.

Emissions from fossil fuel plants should all be charged to the fossil fuel plants. I think you should look at some credible analyses of CO2 life-cycle emissions such as the ones done by the University of Wisconsin at Madison and by the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.  You can find the links to these studies here:

There is also a reference there to a similar study conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency which has done a thorough job of evaluated the various electricity-generating technologies. These studies all find that nuclear is comparable to hydroelectric and wind, with solar somewhat higher due to its very low power output and the very energy-intensive materials required to build solar panels.

Rex Weyler: If you’re going to promote the alleged “low cost” of nuclear power, you should at least point out the public subsidies, the fact that no private firms appear ready to carry the risk, the fact that no private firms appear willing to insure nuclear plants, and the budgets that have spiralled out of control such as the Darlington project, promised for $6 billion, now expected to cost $28 billion for construction alone. Furthermore, to be accurate, you should point out that these costs don’t account for future decommissioning, accidents, or waste storage, a dangerous problem that has not been solved as we witness at Fukushima, with nuclear waste tucked into the concrete holds.

Patrick Moore: The “subsidies” to nuclear pale in comparison to the subsidies for wind and solar, on a per kilowatt/hour of energy produced. Darlington was not “promised” at $6 billion and the actual cost has not been determined. In the US the nuclear industry pays 1/10th cent per kwh into a fund that is now in the tens of billions for decommissioning and waste storage.

Rex Weyler: Our old buddy Walt Patterson, now working at Chatham House in London, just this week called nuclear power, “the slowest, most expensive, narrowest, most inflexible, and riskiest” energy option. Patterson is a nuclear physicist. He hasn’t changed his mind. Didn’t you know Walt? Would you not at least reference such opinions if you wanted to appear scientific.

Patrick Moore: Walt was always anti-nuclear and is unlikely to change his mind anytime soon. It is obvious that there are people who are anti-nuclear. That’s part of the reason for writing my book, to state the case for nuclear energy. I’ve mentioned Lovelock, Brand and Monbiot– I could add former Greenpeace UK Executive Director Stephen Tindale, and the late Friends of the Earth UK leader Hugh Montefiore – all with established environmental credentials and all in disagreement with Walt Patterson on nuclear.

And of course, I’m part of that list too. I was anti-nuclear from the very beginning of Greenpeace, as were the rest of us associated with that first voyage in 1971. When you joined our organization in 1973 after the third Greenpeace voyage, you were opposed to nuclear like the rest of us. The difference is I – along with Tindale, Brand, Lovelock, Monbiot and many others – have come to see that our earlier position in opposition to all things nuclear was incorrect. Nuclear energy is a vitally important technology for electricity, just as nuclear medicine is vitally important to diagnostics and treatment in human health.

Rex Weyler: Pat, I don’t care if you work as a corporate public relations consultant. That’s your free choice. However, you should be aware that there is a credibility cost when you spin data. There is a credibility cost when you promote companies such as Asia Pulp and Paper. You should know that this company is notorious, was linked to dictator General Suharto, denounced by Human Rights Watch and 35 Indonesian organizations for human rights abuses, and boycotted by retailers such as Office Depot, Volkswagen, and Hugo Boss for social crimes and ecological destruction. Of course, you’re free to choose your clients, but do you have any moral criteria? If not, okay, but be aware of the reputation cost to you.

Patrick Moore: I’m actually an environmental consultant, professional public speaker, and an ecologist specializing in sustainability. But just as with “corporate,” you use “public relations” as a slur. I am not a public relations consultant and that is not my area of expertise.

As for Asia Pulp and Paper we at Greenspirit Strategies have toured APP forestry operations extensively. We have also toured tropical forestry operations in South America. I can assure you that APP’s forestry is world-class and that the company is operating legally on land that has been designated for forest plantation operations by the national government.

It is obvious that during the Suharto regime, major Indonesian companies had to have dealings with the government. That does not make them responsible for the regime.

Regarding Human Rights Watch my understanding is that they called for an investigation into alleged violations of human rights during the turbulent period around 2003. I call that transparency, and I encourage it.

However, the western companies you named that have boycotted APP have acted on the misinformation fed to them by professional activists like yourself. I would be happy to introduce you to the people who represent APP’s forestry operations and perhaps you could go there and see for yourself. I have an extensive photo archive of APP forestry lands that I could share with you.

Rex Weyler: I work with genuine scientists all around the world assessing environmental issues. Among them, there is a lot of discussion and debate, but the best of these appear humbled by their knowledge, not condescending. The smartest scientists I know display humility and respect for other scientists, and they certainly avoid rhetorical tricks that distort data.

Patrick Moore: Isn’t this itself condescending?  Who are you to judge scientists or science when you are not a scientist yourself?

Rex Weyler: I genuinely enjoy our occasional beer sessions, but since you have gone on such a full scale attack against those working on environmental efforts outside the corporate world – calling us “senseless,” accusing us of being “murderers,” cherry-picking data, and insulting everyone who has a different point of view, I think you must expect some resistance and honest feedback.

Patrick Moore: I expect resistance to my honestly held views because they threaten the misinformation machine that Greenpeace and their allies have become. I believe many of the policies of the organization are senseless, such as their opposition to many forms of aquaculture, including salmon, shrimp and tuna farming. I have not called you a murderer, unless you too have been responsible for blocking the introduction of genetically modified Golden Rice that would prevent between 250,000 to 500,000 children from going blind each year and then dying miserably at an early age due to vitamin A deficiency.

Golden Rice was ready for planting over 10 years ago and Greenpeace and their allies have succeeded in blocking its introduction, resulting in 2.5 to 5 million children becoming blind and dying early. This is a crime against humanity. Thankfully the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with help from Warren Buffet and others have stepped in and will break through the barriers and get Golden Rice into production by 2013.

Rex Weyler: Humanity faces a serious dilemma regarding the scale of our consumption, human impoverishment, and ecological collapse. Being a “glass half-full guy” as you described yourself to me, is just really another rhetorical device. We all know that half full and half empty are the same thing. Rather than nitpick for a moment, try taking a look at the big, no-brainer, obvious trends: Growing deserts, shrinking forests, drained aquifers, depleted soils, disappearing species, dying coral reefs, lopped-off mountain tops, oil well blowouts, contaminated water tables, net-energy figures falling like a stone, a billion hungry people, a heating planet, methane releases, lakes turned into toxic black sludge ponds, and so forth.

Patrick Moore: That’s your dark vision of hopelessness, not mine. Your glass is obviously empty. I see a lot more hope than doom and gloom and I have tried to reflect that in my new book. Greenpeace and many other environmental groups predict the collapse of civilization and the environment and then push policies that would accomplish just that. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rex Weyler: You blame this on poverty?

Patrick Moore: I have never said any such thing. Poverty is obviously caused by lack of wealth. The solution to both poverty and population growth in the developing countries is the mechanization of agriculture. This is how a middle class is built because when agriculture is mechanized only five percent of the population is required to grow food, as opposed to 70-80 percent in subsistence agriculture. In the industrialized countries people are relatively wealthy and the population has stopped growing except for immigration from the developing countries.

Mechanization frees up over half the population to engage in manufacturing and services and thus build a modern society. In subsistence agriculture children are an asset for labor on the farm so large families are the norm and women end up uneducated, barefoot, and pregnant most of their productive lives. When agriculture is mechanized and modernized children become an expense and families become smaller. People move into urban areas where women get an education and join the work force. Thus the mechanization of agriculture addresses both poverty and population in the developing countries. This is underway now in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Rex Weyler: Maybe you missed the data showing who is consuming all this industrial plunder.

Patrick Moore: By “industrial plunder” do you happen to mean the food, energy, and materials we take from the environment in order to survive each day? We are all consumers but unfortunately there are many who do not have enough food and energy and our job as humanitarians should be to help them get it. Over a billion people have no electricity. This is not a matter of who’s to blame but who’s going to help provide the electricity that is so important for a civilized life and the creation of wealth.

Rex Weyler: Really Patrick, you appear to have lost your way.

Patrick Moore: There is your condescending tone again. I have a very clear path ahead of me.  Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout provides a detailed set of actions that we can take to reduce our negative impacts on the environment while at the same time continuing to provide the food, energy, and material resources that we need to support our civilization. You can be sure I will remain on this path as it has a much better chance of a positive outcome than the fear of apocalypse that I hear so often and have never been convinced by.

Rex Weyler: In any case, if I write about the ideas you promote in your book, I will discuss these problems and errors and cite opinions and data that do not support your views.

Patrick Moore: I encourage it!  I have never shirked from reasoned debate.

Rex Weyler: I suspect this is not a big deal for you, since you appear comfortable with your supporters, but I just wanted to let you know personally.

Patrick Moore: Again I appreciate that, and yes I am comfortable with my supporters. Overall, I have found most of them to be thinking people who are both environmentalists and humanitarians.

Copyright © Patrick Moore . Published by MercatorNet.com. You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only. Contact us if you wish to discuss republication.

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