For people who think in political boxes, Greenpeace usually ends up in a box way over yonder on the left-hand side of the scale. And they're often surprised to find that's a mistake. We're an environmental group, not a political party, and our independence from political allegiance runs deep in our core values.
With good reason. While it's tempting to think in simple polarizations, it's by no means a cut-and-dried question whether the left or the right is more eco-friendly.
It was a socialist left government under Mitterrand in France that sank the Rainbow Warrior in attempt to stop our activism against nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. The most effective US president on environmental matters? Arguably Republican Richard Nixon, who signed into law the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The biggest Marine Reserve ever created? The work of Republican George W. Bush. All wrong about nuclear power? Democrat Barack Obama. In the 80s, the most common accusation against Greenpeace's work against nuclear weapons in the US was that we were a KGB front. When we opened an office in the Soviet Union in the Glasnost years, the most common accusation against Greenpeace there was that we were a CIA front.
The presumption that we must have motives other than protecting the Earth has always been strong. But our policy is no permanent allies, no permanent adversaries: we maintain our independence from corporate and government funding precisely so that we can bite any hand without fear that it might be feeding us.
Two news story this week give me cause for hope in breaking down the stereotypes about who can and who can't be an environmentalist.
The first is from Jonathan Kay published in the National Post. Kay makes a sound and reasoned case for the conservative cause to drop the climate skepticism plank from its platform. He points to the messaging around "a growing number of scientists who are questioning the science of climate change" [steady at around 2%] as the hooey it is, and detrimental to their credibility on other issues:
The appropriate intellectual response to [climate change] — finding a way to balance human consumption with responsible environmental stewardship — is complicated and difficult. It will require developing new technologies, balancing carbon-abatement programs against other (more cost-effective) life-saving projects such as disease-prevention, and — yes — possibly increasing the economic cost of carbon-fuel usage through some form of direct or indirect taxation. It is one of the most important debates of our time. Yet many conservatives have made themselves irrelevant in it by simply cupping their hands over their ears and screaming out imprecations against Al Gore.
Rants and slogans may help conservatives deal with the emotional problem of cognitive dissonance. But they aren’t the building blocks of a serious ideological movement. And the impulse toward denialism must be fought if conservatism is to prosper in a century when environmental issues will assume an ever greater profile on this increasingly hot, parched, crowded planet. Otherwise, the movement will come to be defined — and discredited — by its noisiest cranks and conspiracists.
Story number two is from a group known as Vote Vets Action Fund, and won't come as a surprise to anyone who remembers the 2004 Pentagon Planning scenario which recommended that global warming "should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern." This year, for the first time, Pentagon planners will include climate change among the security threats identified in its Quadrennial Defense Review.
As a decades-long fellow traveller of the environmental movement, I've been through too many "People's Liberation Front of Judea vs the Judean People's Liberation Front" discussions not to know how hard it is to build a tent that's big enough to accommodate everyone. And in particular how hard it can be for those of us committed to non-violence to accept that we might have common ground with the military, or for those of us of a liberal bent to imagine joining hands with conservatives in the name of any cause. But I also know this: solving climate change is going to require every hand on deck to bring this big ship around. We can't afford to not work with everyone and anyone willing to help build the movement for a renewable energy future, no matter what their motive, and no matter how different their vision of the post-climate-change world might be.
There will be plenty of time to sort out what ideology will dominate the future, once we've taken care of the priority of ensuring we have a future to argue over. So you there on the right, you there on the left, put aside your differences, and let's get to work.