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Patrick Moore: The 'sensible environmentalist'

There is little love lost between Patrick Moore and Greenpeace

PATRICK Moore, a Greenpeace founder, says the organisation is "anti-science, anti-business and downright anti-human".

"A lot of environmentalists are stuck in the 1970s and continue to promote a strain of leftish romanticism about idyllic rural village life powered by windmills and solar panels," Moore says. He is a vehement critic of wind and solar power – the main energy sources Greenpeace supports – saying both are "ridiculously expensive and unreliable".

"Wind and solar are a bubble," Moore tells Petroleum Economist, "they won't work in Africa, where they can't afford conventional energy. Greenpeace policies will drive millions of people into energy poverty."

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates renewable energy production cost $55 a megawatt hour (MWh) in 2009. This will decrease to $23/MWh in 2035, it predicts, but only if substantial investment is made in power systems to accommodate new capacity and if developments are created on a very large scale.

Moore also supports unconventional energy – such as shale gas and oil – because of its potential to displace coal from the global energy mix. "I think it's brilliant," he says. "We're going to get a lot of resources out of them. It's still finite but it buys us time." And he's a defender of the oil sands – claiming it doesn't make any sense to attack Alberta's oil-sands producers while the world remains heavily reliant on oil as an energy source.

Greenpeace, meanwhile, has branded Moore "anti-environmental" because of his support for nuclear power and logging. Moore claims nuclear energy is clean and sustainable for many thousands of years and could potentially take coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel – out the global energy mix. "Because of our [Greenpeace's] emotionalism, we thought every form of nuclear power was evil. We compared nuclear energy with radiation used in nuclear weapons," Moore says. "You can contain it. I didn't get that at the time and was swept up in the movement."

Greenpeace says that since Moore's departure from the organisation in 1986 he has been converted from a "defender of the planet to a paid representative of corporate polluters". Moore's business, Greenspirit Strategies, is an environmental public-relations (PR) firm, which lists farmed-salmon producers and a number of logging companies among its clients. Greenpeace criticises Moore for exploiting his former Greenpeace connections to attract clients for his PR firm, while acting as a spokesman for "anti-environmental" issues.

Moore admits his business "has its own agenda", but maintains it is legitimate consultancy and says attacks on the company are an attempt to slur him personally.

The most "ethically bankrupt" of Greenpeace's policies, Moore claims, is its opposition to a form of golden rice that has been genetically engineered to be rich in vitamin A. This, he claims, could help prevent blindness – often caused by vitamin A deficiency – in developing countries. Greenpeace says the genetically modified rice is an ecologically dangerous way to tackle vitamin-A deficiency, a stance Moore claims is "a crime against humanity". He also claims that its opposition to GM rice shows Greenpeace "does not base its policies on scientific fact".

The latest war of words between Greenpeace and Moore comes with the publication of a new book by the organisation's former frontman, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist. The book traces Moore's time with Greenpeace from its founding in the early 1970s and charts his growing unease with its strategies and beliefs and, ultimately, his decision to quit.

The book paints a picture of Greenpeace as an idealistic yet misguided and blinkered organisation; a group that, Moore says, dismissed science if it did not confirm its own agenda or beliefs.

"I'd like to think Greenpeace left me, rather than the other way around," Moore says in his book, "I became a sensible environmentalist. Greenpeace became increasingly senseless."

Greenpeace was formed in 1971 by a band of "beatniks, hippies and eco-freaks", says Moore, who met in a basement of a Unitarian church in Vancouver, British Columbia. The group, which initially called itself the Don't Make A Wave Committee, sailed a small fishing boat from Vancouver across the North Pacific to protest against US hydrogen-bomb testing beneath the island of Amchitka, Alaska.

They never made it to the test site, but following US media coverage of the protest, thousands from the US and Canada marched along border crossings across the continent and blockaded many other planned tests. As a result, the then US president, Richard Nixon, cancelled the remaining tests. The group soon adopted the new name from their mantra – "let it be a green peace" – and the organisation we know today was born.

Moore became a director of Greenpeace International in 1979, but says that shortly after he became increasingly disillusioned with the organisation. He left in 1986 after Greenpeace decided to campaign for banning the addition of chlorine to drinking water worldwide. Moore viewed the policy as "extremist and irrational" and vowed to work on an environmental policy based on "logic and real science".

War rhetoric permeates Moore's account of his early days in Greenpeace. Moore saw himself in 1971 – the year Greenpeace was founded – as "a general" in the war to save the earth from the threat of nuclear holocaust and environmental disaster. Now the war seems to be between the Moore Greenpeace's PR machine.

To add further fuel to Greenpeace's fire, Moore is also sceptical about global warming. "There is no cause for alarm about climate change," he says. "The climate is always changing."

Although Moore is not convinced peak oil is imminent and says the longer we can stretch out the life of fossil fuels in a sustainable way, the better, he believes geothermal and hydro-electric power are the future of the energy industry.

The IEA says oil demand between now and 2035 will be driven entirely by non-OECD countries, specifically China, India and the Middle East, with annual demand increases of 2.4%, 3.6% and 1.3% respectively. The transport sector will be the main force behind this growth and China is the colossal force pushing oil-demand growth for transport – the main sector driving up carbon emissions. Chinese oil demand will almost double by 2035, reaching 15.3m barrels a day.

Plug-in hybrid cars, says Moore, are "the only logical approach" to try to resolve this problem. The future of the transport industry, says Moore, is bio-fuels and electric cars.

At the end of January, US President Barack Obama said he wanted to see 80% of the US' electricity supply come from "clean energy" by 2035. He added that he plans to have 1m electric vehicles on US roads by 2015. Moore is sceptical about whether this target is achievable, but he says it's a step in the right direction. For Moore, sensible environmentalism is based on scientific conviction and balancing the needs of the planet with those of its inhabitants.

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