Confessions of a Greenpeace dropout
In a controversial new book a founding member of Greenpeace explains why he turned his back on the organisation and its key policies. These days Dr Patrick Moore is chair and chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies in
Vancouver, a consulting firm he co-founded and that provides public relations, lectures, lobbying, opinions and committee participation to
government and industry on a wide range of environmental and
sustainability issues. Here is an excerpt from his book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist, reproduced with the permission of the publisher, www.beattystreetpublishing.com
You could call me a Greenpeace dropout, but that is not an entirely
accurate description of how or why I left the organization 15 years
after I helped create it. I’d like to think Greenpeace left me, rather
than the other way around, but that too is not entirely correct.
The truth is Greenpeace and I underwent divergent evolutions. I
became a sensible environmentalist; Greenpeace became increasingly
senseless as it adopted an agenda that is antiscience, antibusiness, and
This is the story of our transformations.
The last half of the 20th century was marked by a revulsion for war
and a new awareness of the environment. Beatniks, hippies, eco-freaks,
and greens in their turn fashioned a new philosophy that embraced peace
and ecology as the overarching principles of a civilized world. Spurred
by more than 30 years of ever-present fear that global nuclear holocaust
would wipe out humanity and much of the living world, we led a new
war—a war to save the earth. I’ve had the good fortune to be a general
in that war.
My boot camp had no screaming sergeant or rifle drills. Still, the
sense of duty and purpose of mission we had at the beginning was as
acute as any assault on a common enemy. We campaigned against the
bomb-makers, whale-killers, polluters, and anyone else who threatened
civilization or the environment. In the process we won the hearts and
minds of people around the world. We were Greenpeace.
I joined Greenpeace before it was even called by that name. The Don’t
Make a Wave Committee was meeting weekly in the basement of the
Unitarian church in Vancouver.
In April 1971 I saw a small article in the Vancouver Sun about a
group planning to sail a boat from Vancouver across the North Pacific to
protest U.S. hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. I immediately realized
this was something real I could do, way beyond taking ecology classes
and studying at a desk. I wrote the organizers and was invited to join
the weekly meetings of the small group that would soon become
The early days of Greenpeace were heady indeed. It was 1971 and the
height of the hippy era. I was in a bitter battle to obtain my PhD in
ecology at the University of British Columbia over the objections of a
few industry-backed professors who had forced their way onto my thesis
committee. I became radicalized and joined the group of antinuclear
We realized all-out nuclear war would be the end of both civilization
and the environment–hence the name we soon adopted, Greenpeace, as in
“let it be a green peace.” We chartered an old fishing boat to sail to
ground zero to focus public attention on the nuclear tests. We believed
the revolution should be a celebration. We sang protest songs, drank
beer, smoked pot, and had a generally good time—even while being tossed
about on the notoriously dangerous waters of the North Pacific.
We survived that first voyage, but we never made it to the test site.
The U.S. Coast Guard cut us off at Akutan Harbor and made us turn back.
However, our mission was a success because our protest was reported in
the media across North America. As a result, thousands of people from
Canada and the U.S. marched on border crossings across the continent on
the day of the H-bomb test and shut the crossings down. Soon after,
President Nixon cancelled the remaining tests in that series. We could
hardly believe what our ragtag band of peaceniks had accomplished in
just a few short months. We realized that a few people could change the
world if they just got up and did something.
It was the beginning of a very wild ride.
High on the victory of vanquishing a world superpower, in early 1972
we repeated our “take it to ground zero” protests with France, which was
still conducting atmospheric tests of atomic and hydrogen bombs on
Mururoa, a small atoll in the South Pacific. France had refused to sign
the 1963 treaty banning atmospheric testing signed by the Soviet Union,
Great Britain, and the United States.
We found David McTaggart, a Canadian living in New Zealand who was
willing to sail his small boat across the South Pacific, and the next
protest was on. The first year the French Navy rammed a hole in the boat
and forced it ashore. The second year they beat up our captain, an
event secretly photographed by one of the crew. The beating catapulted
the story to the front pages of French newspapers. Within the year
France announced it would no longer conduct nuclear tests in the
In three years our little band of protesters had forced two
superpowers to alter substantially their nuclear weapons testing
programs. We proved again that a small group of dedicated people could
effect real change at a global level. Nothing could stop us now.In 1975
we took on the challenge of saving the whales from extinction at the
hands of huge factory whaling fleets. This campaign really put
Greenpeace on the map and made us a worldwide icon. By the early 1980s
we were confronting the annual slaughter of baby seals, opposing
driftnet fisheries, protesting toxic waste dumping, blocking
supertankers, and parachuting into nuclear reactor construction sites.
Our campaigns were highly successful at changing opinions and energizing
the public. Through the power of the media and the people, we were
steadily influencing government policies and forcing industries to clean
up their acts. We had achieved the support of the majority of people in
the industrialized democracies.
By 1982 Greenpeace had grown into a full-fledged international
movement with offices and staff around the world. We were bringing in
$100 million a year in donations and half a dozen campaigns were
During the early 1980s two things happened that altered my
perspective on the direction in which environmentalism, in general, and
Greenpeace, in particular, were heading. The first was my introduction
to the concept of sustainable development at a global meeting of
environmentalists. The second was the adoption of policies by my fellow
Greenpeacers that I considered extremist and irrational. These two
developments would set the stage for my transformation from a radical
activist into a sensible environmentalist.
In 1982, the United Nations held a conference in Nairobi to celebrate
the 10th anniversary of the first UN Environment Conference in
Stockholm, which I had also attended. I was one of 85 environmental
from around the world who were invited to craft a statement of our
collective goals for environmental protection. It quickly became
apparent there were two nearly opposite perspectives in the room—the
perspective of environmentalists from wealthy industrialized countries
and the prodevelopment perspective of environmentalists from the poor
As one developing country activist put it, taking a stand against
development in his woefully poor country would get him laughed out of
the room. It was hard to argue with his position. A well-fed person has
many problems, a hungry person has but one. The same is true for
development, or lack of it. We could see the tragic reality of poverty
on the outskirts of our Kenyan host city. Those of us from
industrialized countries recognized we had to be in favor of some kind
of development, preferably the kind that didn’t ruin the environment in
the process. Thus the concept of sustainable development was born.
This was when I first fully realized there was another step beyond
pure environmental activism. The real challenge was to figure out how to
take the environmental values we had helped create and weave them into
the social and economic fabric of our culture. This had to be done in
ways that didn’t undermine the economy and were socially acceptable. It
was clearly a question of careful balance, not dogmatic adherence to a
I knew immediately that putting sustainable development into practice
would be much more difficult than the protest campaigns we’d mounted
over the past decade. It would require consensus and cooperation rather
than confrontation and demonization. Greenpeace had no trouble with
confrontation—hell, we’d made it an art form—but we had difficulty
cooperating and making compromises. We were great at telling people what
they should stop doing, but almost useless at helping people figure out
what they should be doing instead.
It also seemed like the right time for me to make a change. I felt
our primary task, raising mass public awareness of the importance of the
environment, had been largely accomplished. By the early 1980s a
majority of the public, at least in the Western democracies, agreed with
us that the environment should be taken into account in all our
activities. When most people agree with you it is probably time to stop
beating them over the head and sit down with them to seek solutions to
our environmental problems.
At the same time I chose to become less militant and more diplomatic,
my Greenpeace colleagues became more extreme and intolerant of
dissenting opinions from within.
In the early days we debated complex issues openly and often. It was a
wonderful group to engage with in wide-ranging environmental policy
discussions. The intellectual energy in the organization was infectious.
We frequently disagreed about specific issues, yet our ultimate vision
was largely shared. Importantly, we strove to be scientifically
accurate. For years this had been the topic of many of our internal
debates. I was the only Greenpeace activist with a PhD in ecology, and
because I wouldn’t allow exaggeration beyond reason I quickly earned the
nickname “Dr. Truth.” It wasn’t always meant as a compliment. Despite
my efforts, the movement abandoned science and logic somewhere in the
mid-1980s, just as society was adopting the more reasonable items on our
Ironically, this retreat from science and logic was partly a response
to society’s growing acceptance of environmental values. Some activists
simply couldn’t make the transition from confrontation to consensus; it
was as if they needed a common enemy. When a majority of people decide
they agree with all your reasonable ideas the only way you can remain
confrontational and antiestablishment is to adopt ever more extreme
positions, eventually abandoning science and logic altogether in favor
of zero-tolerance policies.
The collapse of world communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall
during the 1980s added to the trend toward extremism. The Cold War was
over and the peace movement was largely disbanded. The peace
movement had been mainly Western-based and anti-American in its
leanings. Many of its members moved into the environmental movement,
bringing with them their neo-Marxist, far-left agendas. To a
considerable extent the environmental movement was hijacked by political
and social activists who learned to use green language to cloak agendas
that had more to do with anticapitalism and antiglobalization than with
science or ecology. I remember visiting our Toronto office in 1985 and
being surprised at how many of the new recruits were sporting army
fatigues and red berets in support of the Sandinistas.
I don’t blame them for seizing the opportunity. There was a lot of
power in our movement and they saw how it could be turned to serve their
agendas of revolutionary change and class struggle. But I differed with
them because they were extremists who confused the issues and the
public about the nature of our environment and our place in it. To this
day they use the word industry as if it were a swear word. The same goes
for multinational, chemical, genetic, corporate, globalization, and a
host of other perfectly useful terms. Their propaganda campaign is aimed
at promoting an ideology that I believe would be extremely damaging to
both civilization and the environment.
. . .
The main purpose of this book is to establish a new approach to
environmentalism and to define sustainability as the key to achieving
environmental goals. This requires embracing humans as a positive
element in evolution rather than viewing us as some kind of mistake. The
celebrated Canadian author Farley Mowat has described humans as a
“fatally flawed species.” This kind of pessimism may be politically
correct today, but it is terribly self-defeating. Short of mass suicide
there doesn’t seem to be an appropriate response. I believe we should
celebrate our existence and constantly put our minds toward making the
world a better place for people and all the other species we share it
A lot of environmentalists are stuck in the 1970s and continue to
promote a strain of leftish romanticism about idyllic rural village life
powered by windmills and solar panels. They idealize poverty, seeing it
as a noble way of life, and oppose all large developments. James
Cameron, the multimillionaire producer of the most lucrative movie in
history, Avatar, paints his face and joins the disaffected to
protest a hydroelectric dam in the Amazon. Who needs lights and
newfangled electric gadgets anyway? So what if hydroelectricity is by
far the most important source of renewable electricity? These dreamers
should look to the example of Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth
Catalogue and leader of the “back to the land” movement of the 1960s and
Today, in his wisdom, he supports nuclear energy, genetic engineering, and urbanization. He celebrates humanity
for its creativity and industrious nature. He is not stuck in the 1970s and neither am I.
By the time you reach the end of this book, I hope you will have a
new perspective on the important issues that define environmentalism
As you will see, I believe:
• We should be growing more trees and using more wood, not
cutting fewer trees and using less wood as Greenpeace and its allies
contend. Wood is the most important renewable material and
• Those countries that have reserves of potential hydroelectric
energy should build the dams required to deliver that energy. There is
nothing wrong with creating more lakes in this world.
• Nuclear energy is essential for our future energy supply,
especially if we wish to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. It has
proven to be clean safe, reliable, and cost-effective.
• Geothermal heat pumps, which too few people know about, are far
more important and cost-effective than either solar panels or wind mills
as a source of renewable energy. They should be required in all new
buildings unless there is a good reason to use some other technology for
heating, cooling, and making hot water.
• The most effective way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is
to encourage the development of technologies that require less or no
fossil fuels to operate. Electric cars, heat pumps, nuclear and
hydroelectric energy, and biofuels are the answer, not cumbersome
regulatory systems that stifle economic activity.
• Genetic science, including genetic engineering, will improve
nutrition and end malnutrition, improve crop yields, reduce the
environmental impact of farming, and make people and the environment
• Many activist campaigns designed to make us fear useful chemicals are based on misinformation and unwarranted fear.
• Aquaculture, including salmon and shrimp farming, will be one of
our most important future sources of healthy food. It will also take
pressure off depleted wild fish stocks and will employ millions of
• There is no cause for alarm about climate change. The climate is
always changing. Some of the proposed “solutions” would be far worse
than any imaginable consequence of global warming, which will likely be
mostly positive. Cooling is what we should fear.
• Poverty is the worst environmental problem. Wealth and urbanization
will stabilize the human population. Agriculture should be mechanized
throughout the developing world. Disease and malnutrition can be largely
eliminated by the application of modern technology. Health care,
sanitation, literacy, and electrification should be provided to
• No whale or dolphin should be killed or captured anywhere, ever.
This is one of my few religious beliefs. They are the only species on
earth whose brains are larger than ours and it is impossible to kill or
capture them humanely.
• The book is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of the issues,
nor is it a highly technical work. I have written it for a general
audience interested in the wide range of current environmental issues. I
have provided references where I think they might be useful for
validation or further reading. All the website references can be
accessed directly on the Internet by going to www.beattystreetpublishing.com
Dr. Patrick Moore is a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace and
chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver.
His new book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a
Sensible Environmentalist, is available at
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