BEEF Editors' Blog

3 Lessons From A Greenpeace Dropout

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.

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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Discuss this Blog Entry 8

Frank Schlichting (not verified)
on Nov 21, 2013

While I do agree with Mr Moore for the most part I have to question his motives. When he was with Greenpeace he would tailor his message to what the environmentalists wanted to hear, then pass the plate to help spread to word. These days he had switched sides but is doing the same thing. It seems to me the only thing he really believes in is capitalism. He has figured out the corporations will pay him more money for a speech than Greenpeace.

Chad McNutt (not verified)
on Nov 21, 2013

Guess I am not as cynical and hope more interactions like this could occur. I think most people are reasonable when you get down to it and common ground and understanding can be found if you have a good dialogue. Unfortunately it's usually the extreme voices we hear and where the conversation often starts.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Nov 21, 2013

As much as "compromise", we need "synthesis". Take what we know and put together an improvement.
We people ARE part of the problem, and pregnancy prevention is PART of the answer, as important a technology as golden rice. Resources/People modified by Technology makes our Quality of Life.
R/PxT=Q, a relationship formula that allows environmentalists, which we farmers/ranchers are, capitalists, which we farmer/ranchers are, "Cornucopians" who believe technology will forever bail us out, Malthusians who believe in negative population growth, all to talk with one another instead of wasting our energies doing battle.
R/PxT=Q is the most important formula since e=mc2
note it is really P minus P prime to recognize the critical mass needed for civilization. Also T is modified by r to indicate how religions try to allow or prohibit use of Technology.

W.E. (not verified)
on Nov 21, 2013

Farmer/environmentalists seek out connections and consequences. Maybe the time is ripe for us to speak up with some of the synthesis mentioned above.
We are college-educated people of Moore’s generation—the first in our families. We quietly came back home to work the land and raise cattle, have been studying human history, searching for answers, observing nature, responding to repair our own mistakes, adapting our ways to fit the ways of nature all these years. Maintaining balance and preserving diversity are key elements of good environmental guardianship. For that reason, we agree and disagree with Moore’s list. Some of it is sensible; some isn’t, long term.
Hydroelectric and geothermal energy? Yes. Less fossil fuel, yes. Aquaculture, yes. Recognize that poverty is the worst environmental problem, yes. Protect whales and dolphins, yes—along with thousands of other wild things, including honeybees. Nuclear energy? No! Look at Japan. Consider how many nuclear plants here the U.S. were built in earthquake zones. Foolish and shortsighted super-technologies with long-term life-altering consequences, like fracking and nuclear energy, are invitations for large-scale disasters that will pollute precious ground water for centuries.
Cost-effective technologies, yes. Superinsulated homes, heated with passive solar systems do work. We have lived in one since 1985, and it has more than repaid our investment. So would active solar systems generating electricity on every farm and home, spreading responsibility, reducing risk, increasing energy-independence.
Plant more trees? Yes indeed, because trees moderate the effects of weather and climate, enrich the soil and protect it from erosion, shelter homes and livestock. Deforestation has been a major cause of climate change throughout mankind’s history. The world particularly needs more fruit and nut trees producing high quality food for human beings, along with more people out here on the land to tend them and the livestock that can live among the trees in symbiosis.
History has recorded that grain has always enabled city life. Throughout human history, when too few farmers have supported too many urban dwellers, the natural understanding of environmental consequences has eroded, and bad farming practices have evolved, resulting in plagues, famines, droughts, floods and wars. Bad farming does and always has caused climate change. The arid Middle East was once a verdant garden. Since the time of ancient Egypt and Babylon, cramming too many people into cities has turned the countryside that supports them into desert. Population control isn't anti-human, if we treasure quality of life above mere quantity.
Using chemicals until there is evidence of harm is very dangerous. Look at what DDT did. We can't trust human chemistry to keep our environment safe when profit takes precedence over the health and well being of people and of the land and animals that support us all. Genetically modifying crops to be resistant to chemicals does have many negative consequences. Widespread use of both GM crops and the chemicals they were bred to resist is changing the balance of nature, reducing biodiversity, affecting the quality of the soil and creating super-weeds that require ever more toxic chemical controls. Over the long term, as a result of habitual surpluses of grains, we will discover that the increasingly high carb diets Americans and their cattle have been consuming since WWII, and especially since the introduction of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant grains in 1996, have rendered our nation both fat and hungry. Too much grain, not too much red meat, is killing us while upsetting the natural balance of the environment that supports us.
Cattlemen who are sensible environmentalists should fight to preserve balance and diversity, protect fragile riparian zones, maintain perennial pasturelands, and plan to feed far less corn, far more well managed forage. Hillsides were planted in corn this year that should never have been taken out of grass. Green makes green, brown makes brown. Having more carefully managed pasture land, more crop land protected over winter with grazeable green cover crops, more trees and orchards, more well-tended livestock, more management-intensive grazing will help modify climate extremes while satisfying human appetites with better quality food, not mere quantity. Accessible small technologies like solar electric fences can change the world, feed it well, and do more good than harm. Education and electric fencing supplies would be the best environmental and economic first-aid we could export to the third world at this point in time.
Short-term profiteering is the number one enemy of America’s natural environment. Psalm 24:1 instructs us: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world and all that dwells upon it.” Our environment doesn’t really belong to us. It is on loan to us from the future, and we shouldn’t be doing anything to it that causes lasting harm. We are its stewards, and it will support us and our grandchildren and their grandchildren according to how well we care for it in our time.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Nov 27, 2013

W.E.- Have you heard of malaria? That killed millions in Africa when it was banned by people like you, luckily they brought DDT back. Theres pro's and cons to everything. People were fat before 1996 and are still gonna be fat no matter if theyre eating GMO or not. Don't blame GMO's for people stuffing their faces, theyre far from hungary. Would you rather farmers till their fields and let soil erode or farmers use no till and use herbicides to control weeds?

on Dec 11, 2013

You lost me at "people like you."

Keith Evans (not verified)
on Nov 21, 2013

The way we treat the earth is no threat to the earth, it is a threat to human beings. Over population, over use of fossil fuels, fertilizers and other chemicals, pollution of the oceans and the air can and probably will wipe us out unless we are willing to change.

Keith Evans

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Nov 21, 2013

Amen to Keith and W.E.
"Go forth and multiply." Well, we have done that and we can stop now. Imagine how much more precious every human will be when we each cause only one or two and rarely 3 pregnancies.

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What's BEEF Editors' Blog?

Everyday musings from BEEF Editors on the latest beef industry news and events.


Burt Rutherford

Burt has more than 35 years of experience communicating about beef industry issues. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works...

Wes Ishmael

Among the industry’s most insightful thinkers, Wes Ishmael concentrates on industry price and market perspectives for BEEF magazine. Along with his monthly “Cattle Economics” column...

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