Who is Patrick Moore, and why do so many environmentalists hate him?
Moore has been denounced as an “eco-Judas” and a shill for the timber and nuclear industries by prominent Canadian green activist David Suzuki. He is “a turncoat who supports many of the things we oppose,” according to a Greenpeace spokesman. He routinely is lambasted for hiding secret ties to industries that use him like a marionette; according to the green story line, Moore is “paid by those industries to promote their products and mission.” He is not a real scientist, they claim, but a “liar” who “sold his soul” and for whom a special circle in Hell ought be reserved.
The problem for environmentalists, however, is that Patrick Moore is one of them. And his tale raises serious questions about just exactly who strayed from the orthodoxy, who the real environmentalists are, and about the direction and aims of today’s environmental movement.
The simple version goes like this: In the early 1970s, Patrick Moore helped found Greenpeace, partly to oppose nuclear weapons testing. In just a short time it developed into the planet’s largest and most effective environmental organization. Moore broke with his compatriots in the mid-1980s and has emerged now as one of the foremost proponents of nuclear power, which drives his former mates crazy.
It’s more complicated than that, of course, and the experience of Patrick Moore illustrates the peril that comes when an activist organization achieves political success. As a 24-year-old ecologist in 1971, Moore hooked up with several scruffy environmental agitators in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Vancouver was much like San Francisco at the time. Journalist Bob Hunter, one of Moore’s early colleagues, lovingly described it as having “the biggest concentration of tree-huggers, radicalized students, garbage-dump stoppers, s**t-disturbing unionists, freeway fighters, pot smokers and growers, aging Trotskyites, condo killers, farmland savers, fish preservationists, animal rights activists, back-to-the- landers, vegetarians, nudists, Buddhists, and anti-spraying, anti-pollution marchers and picketers in the country, per capita, in the world.”
Moore, Hunter, and several others loaded into an 80-foot-long chartered halibut seiner called the Phyllis Cormack and set out from Vancouver. Referring to themselves as the Don’t Make a Wave Committee, they aimed for the Aleutian Alaskan island of Amchitka, where they hoped to disrupt the U.S. government’s upcoming underground nuclear test. The voyage was modeled after that of a solitary Quaker sailor in the 1950s who sailed from Honolulu to protest the hydrogen bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll.
As the Phyllis Cormack left Vancouver, according to legend, one of the activists on board flashed the peace sign as a farewell. “Make it a green peace,” said another. Voilà.
They didn’t get too far. Bad weather and the U.S. Navy thwarted their efforts. The explosion occurred as planned. But out of this failure came success. “That voyage,” according to Moore in a recent interview, “was the founding of Greenpeace.” A movement was born.
“We were interested in science,” says Moore. “That was our grounding, a bunch of guys from the northwest grounded in science, worried about the effects of nuclear testing in the ocean.” Moore argues that many of the early Greenpeace activists were committed—initially—to pursuing science-based environmentalism.
Moore was aboard a 1975 voyage that filmed a confrontation with a Soviet whaling fleet in the Pacific Ocean. Greenpeace footage of the Soviets harpooning a sperm whale was broadcast to national outrage in the United States, giving the organization and the “Save the Whales” campaign huge exposure. That helped spur the formation of Greenpeace chapters all over the U.S., elevating Greenpeace from a band of misfits to an influential national organization. It wasn’t long before its reach extended to other nations as well. Under the direction of Moore and allies like Bob Hunter and David McTaggart, Greenpeace became a global behemoth with ambitions to rival the United Nations.
By the mid-1980s, Greenpeace was solidly established as an international giant. But along the way, it lost founder Patrick Moore as an adherent. It had become, in his words, “an organization populated by little storm-troopers out to enforce an anti-intellectual ideology. This anti-intellectualism has become a hallmark of Greenpeace.”
Moore noticed that the organization’s focus turned away from science and toward politics. Several of his colleagues were keen to initiate a campaign to ban chlorine worldwide. “I considered that a terrible idea,” he says. “Chlorine is an element, after all, on the periodic table. They called chlorine the ‘Devil’s Element’ but I thought that adding chlorine to drinking water was one of the great advancements in the history of human civilization.”
By the mid-1980s, after a number of tussles over how Greenpeace should be run and what its goals should be, Patrick Moore walked away from the organization he helped birth. Moore pursued causes he considered to be in line with efforts to promote sustainable development, among them aquaculture and forestry.
To his former colleagues, Moore had gone over to the dark side. After all, people who cut down trees or pull fish from the seas must be evil. Moore’s argument was that industries dependent upon replenishing their products would necessarily incorporate ideas of sustainability into their business practices. His green colleagues called that view treason. On the first Greenpeace voyage back from Amchitka, Moore recalls, his colleague Bob Hunter coined the phrase “ecofascism”—approvingly. Hunter talked about the need to create a belief system that people could adhere to with blind faith.
Moore traces the politicization of modern environmentalism back to that conversation with Hunter. “The political aspects he outlined there seemed totalitarian in nature.”
It’s an apt description, given recent attempts by Greenpeace to erase Patrick Moore from its history. The official position of the organization today holds that Moore is not one of the original founders of the group; he merely was around somewhat in the early days, but was not instrumental to the founding. Sadly for Greenpeace, that contradicts many of its earlier publications and pronouncements. Recently, Greenpeace has edited its website, erasing all mentions of Moore as one of the organization’s founders.
GREENPEACE PARTICULARLY wants Moore to vanish these days because of his latest—and most egregious—apostasy: he supports nuclear power. So they denounce and impugn him, calling into question his integrity. Moore is co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), an organization promoting nuclear energy as a clean, safe, and dependable source of power. Not surprisingly, CASEnergy is financed by the nuclear industry, a fact about which nobody makes any secret. To the apparatchiks who denounce Moore, however, this is evidence he is a paid agent doing the bidding of nefarious overlords.
Moore is content to let the arguments for and against nuclear power stand on their merits. He claims to have had a genuine conversion on the issue of nuclear power, believing it the only technology capable of supplying the vast amounts of power that can improve people’s lives while emitting no greenhouse gas emissions.
For all the name-calling, the turncoat label is one that rankles. “I haven’t turned in any of my positions or policies,” Moore says. “I still want to save the whales. I am still an environmentalist. The only exception is on the issue of nuclear power. But that is a recent conversion, based on what I think is a reasonable approach to the issues.”
Still, he can live with the malice that is directed at him. “They hate me because I challenge their beliefs. And what they hold are beliefs, they are not opinions based in factual information. The reason I left was to move on to solution-oriented work. The people I left behind are not interested in solutions. They are interested in activism.”
It’s a telling commentary on today’s environmental movement that it will expel one of its own for the crime of having sincere differences of opinion on how to save the planet. “What I see now is that they are in a state of decadence, like when an empire is crumbling,” he says. “They are so wrong on so many issues, from forestry to energy to genetics and agriculture. They are afraid of technology and its ability to improve human life.”