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3 Lessons From A Greenpeace Dropout

lessons from a greenpeace dropout

A founder of an extremist environmental group isn’t the typical agriculture conference’s agenda highlight. Nevertheless, earlier this month at the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council Conference in Minneapolis, Patrick Moore, a PhD who was once smack dab in the middle of the radical environmental crusade, captivated producers and agri-business leaders as he shared his sensible approach to environmentalism.

Moore’s story starts during the height of the tension surrounding the Cold War, Vietnam War and, as he says, “the threat of all-out nuclear war.” In the late 1960s, the ecology PhD student joined a small group of activists in planning a voyage across the North Pacific to protest U.S. hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. Their success proved that a “ragtag bunch” could gain huge amounts of public attention and change the course of history. From there, Greenpeace was born. By the mid 1980s, his small group, which had its inception in a church basement, had grown into a powerful organization with offices around the world and attracting $100 million in donations annually.

At that point, Moore says he decided he needed a change.

“I had been against at least three or four things every day of my life for 15 years. I decided it was time to figure out what I was in favor of,” the former Greenpeace president explained. “There is no getting away from the fact that 7 billion people wake up every morning on this planet with real needs for food, energy and materials. I found that my Greenpeace, which had begun as a humanitarian organization trying to prevent all-out nuclear war, had drifted into a position where we described humans as the enemy of the earth.”

That was Moore's preface to an excellent discussion he led with producers and agribusiness experts during the Minneapolis meeting. Here are three of my top takeaways from that discussion:

  1. The extreme environmental movement is anti-human. Detractors of groups like Greenpeace have been to known to label such “extreme environmentalists” a few different things, but Moore’s definition hit the closest to home to me. Moore says environmental extremism is anti-business, anti-capitalism, anti-science, anti-technology, anti-trade, anti-globalization and, in the end, “just plain anti-civilization.” And they do this, he says, all while flying around the world connected via the latest tablet and smartphone. It’s all a little too ironic and, unfortunately, the media buys into this anti-human agenda.
  2. Too many people wake up hungry each day. Technology will be the only way we can solve this. Moore’s most recent endeavor isn't winning him back any buddies from his Greenpeace days. Currently, he is actively involved in the Allow Golden Rice Now campaign and vows to help get the technology off the ground across the world. If you aren’t familiar with Golden Rice, it is a plant that has been genetically modified (GM) to contain beta-carotene, the source of Vitamin A. Millions of people around the world are currently facing a deficiency of Vitamin A, and clinical trials have shown that this technology could substaintially prevent deaths and issues related to the micro-nutrient deficiency.

    To most who are comfortable with GM foods, Golden Rice seems like the answer to a much larger problem of malnutrition across the world. However, it has yet to gain traction because of severe opposition from groups like Greenpeace. It is such opposition that drives Moore to accuse Greenpeace of committing a crime against humanity. When technology benefits both humans and our environmental efficiency, he says we must utilize it.
  3. A sensible environmentalist would look more like a farmer or rancher than a radical environmental activist. Moore closed his presentation with his definition of a sensible environmentalist.

    A sensible environmentalist would:
  • Grow more trees and use more wood.
  • Choose hydroelectric power where it is available.
  • Choose nuclear energy over coal for electricity production.
  • Use geothermal heat pumps in most buildings.
  • Develop cost-effective technologies that require less fossil fuel.
  • Use genetic science to improve food security & reduce methane.
  • Not ban useful chemicals unless there is evidence of harm.
  • Embrace aquaculture as a sustainable industry.
  • View climate change as natural and not catastrophic.
  • Recognize that poverty is the worst environmental problem.
  • Not kill or capture whales or dolphins, ever.

While we might not all agree with everything Moore professes, I think we can agree that his approach to sensible environmentalism is a step in the right direction -- which is the point of Moore’s engagement and environmental efforts. The ex-Greenpeace activist believes we need to find a consensus on competing efforts, and work toward compromise for the greater good of the environment and mankind.

Compromise, however, is a little hard to come by these days, so perhaps that's actually the bigger lesson in all of this. Reaching across the aisle, or the farm gate, or the conference table, to find a sensible middle ground will result in a lot more good than an extreme viewpoint on either side. 

And that's a lesson that stretches far beyond the scope of environmentalism.

To learn more about Moore, read his book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist.


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