Green Guru Sees the Good for the Trees
By Philip Hopkins , December 16, 2006
In 1978, Patrick Moore was arrested in eastern Canada for sitting on top of a baby seal to save it from hunters’ clubs. A picture of the incident appeared in 3000 newspapers around the world the next morning.
It was just the latest protest by the radical environmentalist, who had helped found Greenpeace a few years earlier. His activism had begun when he was a life sciences student at the University of British Columbia.
“I discovered ecology — the science of how all living things are interrelated, and we are related to them,” Dr Moore said during an interview in Melbourne.
Those were years of activism, some as president of Greenpeace: stopping US hydrogen bomb tests in Alaska; campaigning against French atomic tests in the Pacific; and putting anti-whaling on the map.
By the mid-1980s, however, Moore’s approach changed. “The environment had to be taken into account when making decisions,” he says.
“I thought we had largely accomplished all our tasks, had made the public aware of the environment.
“I had been against three or four things for every day of my life for 15 years; I decided I would like to be in favour of something for a change, to make a transition from the politics of confrontation — telling people what they should stop doing — to the politics of trying to find consensus of what we should be doing instead.”
For Moore, through technology and behavioural change, it’s possible to meet the food, energy and material needs of the world’s 6.5 billion people and to reduce environmental impacts.
“My former colleagues reject that, and have moved into ever more extreme politics and positions … eventually abandoning science and logic altogether,” he says.
World communism failed, and many political activists moved into the environmental movement, “using green language in a way to cloak agendas that have more to do with anti-capitalism and anti-globalisation than anything to do with science. What has that to do with ecology?”
Since leaving Greenpeace in 1986, Moore has called himself “the sensible environmentalist”, basing his positions on science and making a living as a consultant. This approach has brought conflict with his former colleagues on many fronts, from nuclear power to genetically modified foods, aquaculture and forestry.
Moore is a global warming sceptic, but still believes we should cut back on greenhouse gases as an insurance policy. “As a species, we are changing the basic chemistry of the global atmosphere by burning all this fossil fuel in such a short time,” he says. “We should be cautious about causing such radical change.”
Hence his support for greenhouse-free nuclear power. However, it’s Moore’s great passion — forestry — that he sees as a key to greenhouse issues. It was forestry that brought him to Melbourne as guest speaker at a VicForests seminar.
“Forestry is not the problem, it’s the solution. Trees are the answer,” says Moore, a third-generation forester. They grow with solar energy, and in doing so, sequester carbon; the carbon is stored within the particular wood product, be it a piece of furniture or in a house frame; and trees grow back, beginning the whole sequestering process again.
“Concrete is produced by energy from fossil fuels that are producing greenhouse gases. The correct environmental policy is: grow more trees and use more wood, not cut fewer trees and use less wood,” he says. “Increase the area of forest, whether as native forest or plantation.”
Moore rejects the view that forestry destroys biodiversity. “To the best of our scientific knowledge, no species has become extinct due to forestry,” he says.
Humans do kill species, however: with a club, spear or gun; through the clearance of native habitat, usually forest, for agriculture — deforestation; and through the introduction of exotic species and predators such as rats and cats. “Deforestation is actually an ongoing process of continuous human interference,” he says.
Trees grow back, forests regenerate — as they have through the life of the earth.
“It follows from that that every species that lives in the forest must be able to recover from the destruction of the forest,” he says.
Moore says fire is the major cause of forest destruction — or “disturbance”— around the world.
“Fire is natural, unlike logging, which is unnatural. It’s true that logging is not identical to fire in its environmental impact, but then fire is quite different from a volcano, and volcanoes are way different than ice ages,” he says.
“These are actually differences of degree, not kind. It doesn’t matter what agent causes disturbance to the forest, as soon as the disturbance is stopped — the fire goes out, the volcano stops erupting, the ice goes away or the logger finishes his job — the forest immediately begins a process of recovery and will always recover — eventually.”
Moore supports a diverse system of reserves throughout the world. “The World Wildlife Fund says 10 per cent of the world’s forests should be protected … I support 15 per cent, probably 20 per cent,” he says.
Patrick Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace and is chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, B.C.; www.greenspiritstrategies.com.