"Quien prefiere lo vivo a lo pintado es el hombre que piensa, canta o sueña."
"The one who prefers what is alive over what is made up is
the person who writes, sings or dreams.”
— Antonio Machado

Once or twice a year I have a beer with my old Greenpeace colleague Patrick Moore, although we no longer agree on environmental issues. Twenty-five years ago, Moore became a corporate consultant and now claims – in his self-published Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout – that environmentalists are “extremists”. He portrays himself as “sensible” and Greenpeace as “increasingly senseless”.

His account of Greenpeace history is generally accurate, if occasionally self-serving. Moore claims he left Greenpeace in the 1980s over a campaign to “ban chlorine” worldwide, but Greenpeace never conducted such a campaign. Greenpeace battled specific organochlorine emissions - particularly dioxins - from specific industries, such as Canadian pulp mills whose effluents caused the closure of shellfish beaches. Old colleagues recall that Moore left Greenpeace over a power struggle with then Executive Director David McTaggart. Greenpeace co-founder Bob Hunter recalled that Moore “burned off old buddies” and was “deposed”.

Moore may be entitled to his subjective view of history, but he goes beyond opinion by misrepresenting events and selectively interpreting data to support his corporate patrons. For example, he calls environmentalists “murderers” because DDT was “discontinued for use in malaria control by the World Health Organization and USAID.” However, WHO and USAID representatives told George Monbiot at the UK Guardian that they never stopped using DDT for malaria control. Moore appears to have invented this.

You call that science?

Moore is smart, and he uses rhetorical tricks as old as Cicero. He insists, for example, “There is no alarm about climate change,” because “the climate is always changing.” This sort of semantic device plays well in college debating clubs and corporate luncheons but has no role in science. In this case, Moore stumbles on the common fallacy of “misplaced concreteness”, presuming a word means the same thing in different contexts. The “change” of an unseasonably warm day or cold winter is not equivalent to a global climate trend. Moore should know this.

He states “global temperature stopped rising 12 to 15 years ago” but this interpretation of the data confuses a routine fluctuation with an irrefutable trend. Earth’s temperature fluctuates due to, for example, larger snowfalls that increase reflectivity, but when we examine a running average of temperature (as with commodity prices to gauge a trend) we see that since 1850, global average temperature has risen from about 13.7°C to 14.6°C, with a particularly high spike in 1999. When the temperature naturally fluctuates down from a spike, the heating does not “stop”. The heating of Earth continues, and the greatest force driving that rise is accumulated human-waste gases in the atmosphere, constantly heating Earth with a force of about three watts per square metre. By comparison, the solar force has fluctuated during the last 25 years by about one-thirtieth the force of human greenhouse gases.

Cherry picking data

Moore tends to cherry pick data that he likes and ignore data that might call his conclusions into question. He promotes nuclear power as a source of clean, low-carbon energy, but ignores data that reveals the carbon cost of nuclear energy. For example, Mark Jacobson at Stanford University compared the lifetime CO2 emissions of energy sources and found nuclear to be the highest non-hydrocarbon option. Jacobson found that nuclear electricity – due to construction, mining, and so forth – emits between six and 60-times more carbon than wind and concentrated solar. Nuclear energy is a carbon hog.

Moore declares that nuclear energy can be produced “at a lower cost”, but he’s wrong on this count as well. Nuclear power has required massive public subsidies, and budgets have spiraled out of control. In Canada, for example, the Darlington nuclear project, promised for $6 billion, is now expected to cost $28 billion. Furthermore, these construction costs don’t account for future decommissioning, accidents, or waste storage, a dangerous problem that has not been solved.

Walt Patterson, a physicist who advised Greenpeace on nuclear issues in the 1970s, now works at London’s Chatham House. Today, Patterson calls nuclear power “the slowest, most expensive, narrowest, most inflexible and riskiest” energy option. Patterson is a nuclear physicist. 

In contrast, Moore is a corporate public relations consultant. During the last 25 years, Moore has sold his Greenpeace affiliation to some of the most powerful and predatory companies on the planet. For example, he promoted Asia Pulp and Paper, the notorious Indonesian logging company 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.

Straw man attacks

One of Moore’s favorite rhetorical tricks is the “straw man” attack, an argument against an imaginary opponent. In defending industrial logging, Moore attacks “environmental groups” who believe there is “something fundamentally wrong with cutting trees” and who want to want to “stop using wood”. But there are no environmental groups that advocate these ideas. Moore invents this imaginary target, the straw man, and then attacks it. For decades, environmentalists have advocated selective logging and supported community-scale initiatives that harvest wood for energy and building, preserve forest and allow sustained multiple use by human and wilderness communities.

Finally, Moore blames forest destruction on the poor. He claims that “unsustainable forest use … [has] nothing to do with the forest industry, and everything to do with poverty.” He fails to mention logging giants such as his client Asia Pulp and Paper. He ignores the devastation perpetrated by companies such as Monsanto and Cargill, who destroy millions of acres of forests, and displace self-sufficient indigenous people, not to grow food for the poor, but to grow cash crops for the rich. Moore claims, “Poverty is the worst environmental problem,” but he avoids the data that shows one-sixth of humanity – the wealthy – using five-sixths of the world’s resources and exporting the environmental impact by plundering poor nations. However, blaming ecological destruction on the poor helps him rationalize the excesses of his clients.

Paid to say he was wrong

Moore has served as a corporate public relations consultant far longer than he ever worked for Greenpeace, and he has never worked as a scientist. Scientists do primary research, confirm facts, reveal conflicting data, cite sources, and respectfully discuss dissenting views. I work with scientists around the world assessing environmental issues, and the best scientists appear humbled by their knowledge, not condescending, display respect for other scientists, and avoid rhetorical tricks that distort the data.

Moore calls his book a ‘Confession’, but confesses only that his former concerns about nuclear radiation must have been wrong since he’s now been hired to take the opposite position. Western literary historians credit Augustine of Hippo with the first such ‘Confession’ sixteen centuries ago. Augustine rejected his past as he won the Roman oligarchy’s patronage. In his role as speechwriter, he borrowed Cicero’s oratorical devices to help justify the atrocities – war, genocide and torture – of his patrons. He twisted meaning of ‘peace’ to suggest that the inquisition created a ‘greater Peace’. He explained, “There are many true things that are not useful for the vulgar crowd to know, and certain things, which although they are false it is expedient for the people to believe otherwise.” The Bishops rewarded Augustine well for his cleverness and loyalty.

Moore’s sculpted opinions appear humorous and sporadically plausible over a beer or two, but in print they become subject to history’s scrutiny. Humanity faces a serious dilemma regarding the scale of our consumption, human impoverishment and ecological overshoot. Growing deserts, shrinking forests, drained aquifers, depleted soils, disappearing species, acidic seas, lopped-off mountain tops, a billion hungry people and a planet heating up like a flambé speak more convincingly than rhetorical tricks promoting business as usual.

You can respond to "Deep Green" columns at my Ecolog, where I post portions of this column and dialogue with readers.

Deep Green is Rex Weyler's monthly column, reflecting on the roots of activism, environmentalism, and Greenpeace's past, present, and future. The opinions here are his own.