At an environmental policy conference in Seattle, Wash. Thursday, former Greenpeace director and author of “Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible EnvironmentalistDr. Patrick Moore slayed sacred cows of the clean Earth movement one by one, a series of fanatically-held beliefs Moore argues are often unscientific and lead to the creation of poor—even dangerous—public policy.

Moore spoke to a room of hundreds who came down to Seattle’s waterfront for the 9th Annual Washington Policy Center Environmental Policy Conference and Lunch. Soliciting rapt attention and ironic laughter, the cerebral Vancouver, B.C. native and popular environmental speaker rolled casually through a discourse on what he argues is the backward agenda of the environmental extreme.

On issues as wide-ranging as agricultural genetic modification, foresting policy, hydro-electric power, nuclear energy (an issue on which his own opinion has changed since working for Greenpeace) and climate change, Moore described case after case in which science and logic have been ignored and substituted with flimsy rationale to rally an under-informed public to a popular cause.

“You don’t need a Ph.D. in nuclear physics to be against nuclear war, and you don’t need a Ph.D. in marine biology to think the whales should be saved,” Moore said. “But when you start talking about all the chemicals and substances that are used in all of our products and services … you need to know something about chemistry and biology in order to analyze those kinds of issues correctly.”

It’s a point of view that is hard to argue against rationally, but clashes on just that point eventually became the wedge forcing him to exit Greenpeace. When the group began to mobilize to ban chlorine—in all its forms—from worldwide use, the scientist in Moore became aware of irreconcilable differences with the extremists in the movement.

“I said you guys, ‘That’s one of the elements in the periodic table.’ It’s one of the building blocks in the universe and I don’t know if it’s in our jurisdiction to be banning something that important,” Moore said, a chuckle rippling through the audience.

But, in Moore’s view, banning chlorine had implications greater than the cosmic weight of arrogance.

“If you look at the chemicals in your cold and flu medicines and other pharmaceuticals you will find that about 80% of them are based on chlorine chemistry,” Moore explained.

According to Moore, all logic and common sense were unable to overcome zealous activism. With some melancholy, Moore finished the story. “It fell on deaf ears; I had to leave.”

It is the appearance of environmental and ecological extremists as insensitive to real-life consequences in the very populations they seek to persuade—particularly those people living under the world’s most abject conditions—that Moore seems most apt to question, expose and assail.

A prime example of what Moore sees can be found in the unswerving opposition to the use of genetic modification, including for food production, and in the Northwest no conversation on the subject is safe from a segue into salmon. Soon Moore’s talk turned to the silver-scaled, nutrient-rich fish that had also been served up for lunch.

Aquacultural activities such as salmon farming in Alaska and Canada have been targeted by Greenpeace and its surrogates, and Moore sketched a recent encounter in which anti-farming forces seized upon a historically bad run of sockeye on British Columbia’s Fraser River to provoke a Royal Commission to investigate the matter.

According to Moore, the 2009 run of Fraser River sockeye was a dreadfully low 1.4 million and that activists claimed the decline was caused by sea lice festering in salmon farms along the migratory route of the wild salmon. Their conjecture was that the sea lice were killing off the fries headed out to sea before they could return to spawn. However, Moore pointed out that though farms in subsequent years continued to produce supposed sea lice-breeding salmon, the wild runs came back stronger than ever, but the government inquiry is still going strong.

“Meanwhile, last year, 34 million sockeye returned to the Fraser last year… it’s the largest that they’ve ever seen since they’ve been recording it, and yet we’re still having a parliamentary inquiry into the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye,” Moore said.

Though Greenpeace has declared a de facto war against the salmon farming industry, Moore argues that salmon farms are needed particularly because they enable conservation of wild stocks, while also smoothing out the highly seasonal employment cycle to provide more consistent income in coastal communities.

But Moore also sees Greenpeace interfering in a way to prevent struggling countries in the developing world from solving perpetual crises with malnutrition and malnourishment.

In many areas of the world, rice is the only item in many diets, but its naturally-occurring form is devoid of vitamins and minerals. The result is startlingly high levels of blindness and mortality as a result of vitamin A deficiency. The invention in 1998 of a product known as ‘golden rice’ could introduce critical vitamin A into the diets of poor around the world, but as a genetically modified food it was successfully targeted by Greenpeace.

“Greenpeace said right away, ‘We’ll rip it out of the ground if you plant this stuff. There could be unforeseen health and environmental consequences,’” Moore said.

But again, Moore’s focus stayed fixed on what impact all of this policy-wrangling has on the people it is meant to protect.

“[Greenpeace does] know, I’m sure, the World Health Organization estimate of 250,000 to half a million blind kids a year.”

Moore eventually took aim directly at former Vice President Al Gore and others for the ease with which they sidestep questions of how their policy proposals would affect civilization and our future generations.

“Al Gore is actually proposing in print and on stage that we should eliminate fossil fuel use in this world in 2020. Eliminate it. 86% of the world’s energy supply. If that actually happened, say actually in 2020 fossil fuel consumption came to an end and we knew it was going to happen today and we started planning for it now, there wouldn’t be one tree left on this planet within a couple of years from now. Because people would start using them for energy, because what else is there?” Moore speculated then matched the dire predictions of global warming hysterics with one of his own.

“[P]eople would start starving to death… Think about what the repercussions of not having 86% of our energy would be and what would we do instead? Build a bunch of windmills? I don’t think so… I think people would die by the hundreds of millions.”

Still, Moore did voice his support for reducing our overall use of fossil fuels, if not for the purpose of averting a hot mess global climatic disaster than to conserve a resource with uncertain reserves.

“[I] do believe that we are using 300 million years of fossil fuel creation in a few centuries. That is not actually a very good model for sustainability or for conservation,” Moore suggested.

He then completed the thought, adding, “If we’re going to charge our electric car, for example, we don’t want to do it on a coal-fired power plant.”

Much of the science is unsettled on many of the environmental issues, and the impact on our society not fully considered. Voices such as Moore’s—a man who pursues facts and logic as a means to obtaining truth, and one who has thought with the mind of those he now opposes—are an asset in our public debate on environmental policy.


[photo credit: flickr]