Hard Choices: Environmentalists and the Forests

Published April 1, 1995

1. The Author’s Point of View

Dr. Patrick Moore is an expert on forestry and wildlife issues, having earned a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of British Columbia in 1972. He was a founding member of Greenpeace and served for seven years as a Director of Greenpeace International. In 1991, Dr. Moore founded Greenspirit, an environmental consultancy focusing on public involvement in the resource and energy sectors. He chairs the Forest Practices Committee of the Forest Alliance of British Columbia, a multiple stakeholder group trying to improve forestry practices in Canada.

2. Collaboration versus Confrontation

Groups such as Greenpeace played a valuable role by ringing an ecological fire alarm, awakening mass consciousness to the true dimensions of our global predicament. The effort succeeded: By the 1980s, virtually everyone inside and outside politics and industry expressed a commitment to environmental protection and good stewardship.

Environmentalists were invited to the table in boardrooms and caucuses around the world to help design solutions to pressing ecological problems. Rather than accept this invitation to be part of the solution, many environmentalists chose instead to radicalize their message and demand restrictions on human activity and the uses of natural resources that far exceed any scientific justification.

That tactical decision created an atmosphere in which environmentalists today must rely on hype and myth rather than good science.

3. Environmentalism versus Eco-Extremism

Greenpeace once prided itself on subscribing to a philosophy that was “transpolitical, trans-ideological, and trans-national” in character. Truth mattered and science was respected for the knowledge it brought to the debate.

That tradition was abandoned by many environmental groups during the 1990s. A new brand of environmental extremism has emerged that rejects science, diversity of opinion, and even democracy. The hallmarks of eco-extremism include:

  • Anti-technology and anti-science. Machinery and industry are rejected in their entirety; science is invoked only as a means of justifying the adoption of beliefs that have no basis in science to begin with.
  • Anti-free enterprise. Although communism and state socialism have failed to protect the environment, eco-extremists are basically anti-business. They have not put forward an alternative system of organization that would meet the material needs of society.

Anti-democratic. Eco-extremists do not tolerate disent and do not respect the opinions and beliefs of the general public. In the name of “speaking for the trees and other species,” we are faced with a movement that would usher in an era of eco-fascism.

4. The Forestry Debate.

The international debate over clearcutting offers a case study of eco-extremism in action.

Groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have mounted major campaigns against clearcutting, a forestry technique that involves the removal of nearly all the standing trees in a given area. Eco-extremists have persuaded millions of people that clearcutting is responsible for “deforestation” on a massive scale in Canada and elsewhere.

In fact, no such deforestation is taking place in Canada or the U.S., and a prohibition on clearcutting would result in no ecological benefits. It is an ecological fact that many types of forest ecosystems thrive most successfully when they are periodically cleared and allowed to regenerate from the clearing. Fire, volcanic eruptions, windstorms, insect attacks, disease, and climate change (ice ages) all have destroyed massive areas of forest sin the past, part of a natural cycle of forest destruction and renewal that existed long before man was a significant player.

The Sierra Club frightens people into opposing clearcutting by showing pictures of the jumble of stumps and woody debris left behind by clearcutting. Such images offend our aesthetic sensibilities, trained as we are by city planning and architecture that emphasize cleanliness and geometric orderliness. But such impressions are unreliable guides to either the ecology or the ethics of clearcutting. As Garrett Hardin, one of the founders of modern environmentalism, wrote in 1968: “The morality of an act cannot be determined from a photograph.”

5. Conclusion

Greenpeace performs an important service, calling public attention to real environmental problems such as the dumping of nuclear waste into the oceans by Russia and the desirability of reducing toxic discharges from all sources. But in its campaign against clearcutting, Greenpeace has abandoned sound science, respect for the rights and opinions of others, and even a sincere interest in the environmental consequences of its actions.

The use of hype and myths by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club is symptomatic of the larger problems facing the modern environmental movement. Confrontation too often is preferred over collaboration, and eco-extremism has shoved aside the earlier spirit of tolerance and concern for the fate of humanity. The results have been harmful to the movement as well as to the environment we seek to protect.

Based on Heartland Policy Study #65, “Hard Choices: Environmentalists and the Forests,” by Dr. Patrick Moore.

Copyright 1995 The Heartland Institute. Nothing in this Executive Summary should be construed as reflecting the views of The Heartland Institute, nor as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any legislation. Permission is hereby given to reprint or quote from this Executive Summary; please send tearsheets to The Heartland Institute, 19 South LaSalle Street, Suite 903, Chicago, Illinois 60603.

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