Book Review: Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist by Dr. Patrick Moore

Green Pioneer Takes On the Environmental Establishment

Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick Moore helped change the world, and now he wants to change it again through his highly enjoyable new book. Moore writes convincingly that the environmental movement has lost its way, and he outlines his vision for the way back to sanity.

In an engaging and entertaining style, Moore chronicles the exhilarating early days of Greenpeace, its roots in Vancouver, its improbable victories, its meagre budget, its brushes with disaster on the high seas, the media circus, and its meteoric rise to global celebrity. From stopping nukes to saving whales, the whole story is here.

But the book does not stop with tales of the Greenpeace glory days. Moore wades into the political morass that engulfed them when the organization’s growth went wild. We read about how the movement nearly failed, how it emerged in its current form, and the forces that caused Greenpeace to take increasingly extreme positions.

A scientist with a Ph.D. in Ecology, Moore explains passionately his commitment to reason, which put him at odds with an increasingly ideologically driven Greenpeace. They were ‘against’ many things, but offered few practical solutions to the planet’s challenges. Moore illuminates readers on how and why a movement about saving the planet has become, as he writes, “anti-human.”

Moore takes on one activist myth after another, debunking spurious claims with facts and arguments, offering readers an education on key topics from forestry to fish farming. For example, there’s a brilliant exposé of the trumped up hysteria over the planet’s supposedly irreversible march toward mass species extinction, which he shows to be based on statistical wizardry and dubious assumptions.

Hearteningly, Moore advocates a clear path towards a bright and sustainable future, in stark contrast to the apocalyptic rhetoric we are deluged with every day in the media. Sadly, we are seeing a generation raised on the idea that humans have doomed the planet to certain, imminent and catastrophic disaster. Moore’s sunnier outlook is welcome relief from the multitude of gloomy forecasts.

Moore has paid a high price for challenging environmental orthodoxy. Greenpeace has revised its history to erase Moore, literally airbrushing him away. “True believers” brand him as an apostate in the movement he helped create. Thankfully, Moore has taken on the challenge of reforming the dogmatic and intolerant institution that ‘environmentalism’ has become. This book could be the beginning of a new era of sensible environmentalism.

That would be a very good thing.

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12 Responses to Book Review: Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist by Dr. Patrick Moore

  1. Pat J says:

    Thanks for the review Dave, I am now going to have to read another book…

    As someone who has always strived to be a “sensible environmentalist”, and works as an environmental scientist, the curious case of Dr. Moore has always intrigued me. I hope his book is able to avoid the strawman arguments used on both sides of these discussions.

    That said, as long as there are Peter Kents and Dick Cheneys in the world, we need Patrick Watsons and David Suzukis to keep the boat from listing too far to one side. The job of us scientists is to stay in the bridge and point out the rocks, in the hope that those elected as Captains will steer us clear. Now let me sink this metaphor before it drags us all down to the bottom…

  2. dbrett says:

    Thanks for the comment Pat. Remember to read the book with an open mind. Dogma is an enemy of science.

    As for avoiding straw-men, you seem not to take your own advice. Kent and Cheney are your straw-men. You sting them up, impute unto them a host a vague things that are bad, commence thrashing them with hammers and hope others will join in. Classic straw-man rhetoric.

    As for the helmsman metaphor, may I suggest the job of the scientist is to distinguish between the rocks and the harmless kelp, lethal deadheads from weightless branches, cresting whales from whitecaps. There’s no point steering wildly off-course for no reason. Example: nuclear energy 😉

  3. Pat J says:

    Not really a strawman. I’m not making any false assertions about them. I just pulled up the first two names that come to mind when I thought of people on the opposite end of the political spectrum regarding environmental issues than Watson and Suzuki. With the benefit of time, I maybe could have used O’Reilly and Levant?

    Oh, and I like to think my mind is always open, just not so open that my brain falls out.

  4. Pat J says:

    Oh-oh, It doesn’t start well.

    I am not going to comment on the Introduction, as it seems to only be a summary of what is to come, I’m not going to analyse his ideas too much until I read enough to understand where his ideas are coming from and how much support he has.

    But in Chapter 1, he starts off by defining “sustainable development”. Good idea, as it is a term bandied about too much by people with little understanding of what it means. The problem is, he provides the perfectly useable definition of sustainable development provided by the Brundtland Report, one that is the “standard definition” used by people who work in sustainability, the standard-model definition (and, unfortunately the one most commonly ignored by people who are misusing the term), then immediately tosses it aside and replaces it with a definition that fits his needs. The problem with this is that his definition doesn’t actually define “sustainable development” as used by anyone else on earth. It doesn’t even address sustainability.

    Compare these:
    Brundtland Report: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

    Patrick Moore: “Sustainable development requires that we continue to obtain the food, energy, and materials necessary for our civilization, and perhaps even increase these resources in developing countries, while at the same time working to reduce our negative impacts on the environment through changes in behaviour and changes in our technologies”

    The second definition is fine, full of great ideas and feelings, but it is, unfortunately, not a definition of sustainability.

    It is like I start my book about actresses by describing Uma Thurman as the greatest actress of our generation, and then I qualify it as saying I define Uma Thurman not as the star of the Kill Bill films, but as that woman from Kramer vs. Kramer and the Bridges of Madison County who has 2 Academy Awards from 16 nominations. That definition makes a compelling argument that Uma is the greatest actress of our time, but that in not a definition of Uma Thurman!

    • dbrett says:

      Thanks Pat. I look forward to the next instalment of your review!

      I agree the word “sustainability” has been very much overused. See my post “Sustainably Sustaining Sustainable Sustainability.” http://davidbrett.blog.ca/2009/03/24/sustainably-sustaining-sustainable-sustainability-5823101/

      You bash Moore’s definition of “sustainability” and imply that you know the true, secret meaning. Perhaps you will enlighten us mere mortals someday. Meanwhile I try to decode your Uma versus Meryl riddle. Hmmm…Streep stared will Eastwood, Eastwood normally is killing people, and Thurman Killed Bill. I’m getting there…

  5. Pat J says:

    Thanks, David, for letting me squat on your bandwidth here. These are good ideas I love discussing. Hope you don’t mind if I extend on some of these ideas in my blog. I can tell by the end of Chapter 1, that I will have a LOT to say about this book.

    I think you mis-read my comment. Defining “sustainable development” to make it clear is an excellent idea when the word has a long history of being used by people who don’t understand it such that the meaning is muddled. Inventing a new definition is a bad idea, because it only serves to muddle the meaning further.

    There is nothing secret or special about the definition provided by the Brundtland Report. It is clear, concise, free of jargon or technical specifics, and it has been the working definition being used by people working in sustainable development for more than 30 years (notably, even before the Brundtland Report was published). If there is a “true” definition, that is it.

    Although Moore’s definition contains many soft environmental ideals that we should probably strive towards (as loaded with weasel words as it is), it does not define “sustainable development” the way it is used by anyone other than Patrick Moore. At best, it is one small aspect of “sustainable development”; at worst, it is a dodge of the real issues raised by limited resources on a consumption-growth based economy. It also completely misses the point that sustainability is not an “environmental” concept any more than it is a social and economic one. My favourite quote about sustainability was derived from Herbert Stein, economic advisor to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and is now referred to in economics as “Stein’s Law”:

    If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

    That is a simple, profound insight, leaving the more complex questions to politicians, planners, and scientists: how do we predict, and prepare for, that inevitable occurrence?

    I don’t think the problem is “sustainable” and its derivatives are necessarily overused, I think the problem is they are too often used in a way that does not relate to the actual definition of the word. As such, it is indistinguishable from “green” or “environmentally friendly” or “clean” or other popular marketing words. I am a believer (as are most scientists) that strict definitions of terms are as important to political discussion as they are to technical discussion. Moore makes the problem he is complaining about in Chapter 1 (and the problem you point out in your March, 2009 blog post) measurably worse when he invents a new definition for the term.

  6. dbrett says:

    Thanks Pat! Great input! I agree there is hardly a more important topic these days. “Sustainability” is driving a lot of public policy, disrupting global trade & altering consumer behaviour, and its not good to have a vague definition. There’s trillions of dollars at stake and millions of lives.

    Moore certainly has the credentials and gravitas to venture a definition, being a founder of Greenpeace and possessing a PhD in Ecology, so his words should not be scoffed at. I find his definition a step in the right direction, because it puts some meat on very thin Brundtland bones.

    What I find refreshing about Moore’s world view is that he acknowledges the human species as integral to the environment, not an alien infestation fouling the planet, as some pundits would suggest. In other words, we have a right to be here, and we may as well accept that our growing numbers will need more and more resources. No matter how much shame and guilt the rich, environment worshipping West heaps on the developing world, they are justly entitled to the comfortable benefits we enjoy and take for granted, such as electricity, transportation, and health care. Simply preaching the “stop consuming” message is itself not “sustainable,” and we need to get on with planing for a lot more stuff for a lot more people.

    I find the Confessions unfolding of sustainability to be very positive and hopeful, which is in contrast to the apocalyptic doom and gloom rhetoric we are fed daily by activists.

    For more on the perils of apocalyptic environmentalism, read my post on Environtology: Sacred Earth, Profane People. http://davidbrett.blog.ca/2007/10/23/environtology_sacred_earth_profane_peopl~3180235/

    BTW, I will spend some time on your blog and weigh in here and there if I have something semi-intelligent to say.

  7. Pat J says:

    “Moore certainly has the credentials and gravitas to venture a definition, being a founder of Greenpeace and possessing a PhD in Ecology, so his words should not be scoffed at.”

    Hmmm… You are definitely not going to like my comments on his description of the scientific process. I think the words “ham-fisted” are going to feature prominently…

    • dbrett says:

      Hmmm…indeed. Environmental Scientists are a rather competitive, scrappy lot, it seems. Watch out for those elbows in the corners. May the best definitions win! Game on.

  8. Felica says:

    Environmental scientists are unique and brilliant in there own weird way.

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