Boycott Big Green, not Big Business
IPN Opinion article
Wall Street Journal Europe
LONDON -- In 1970, a group of antinuclear protesters in Vancouver formed the "Don't Make a Wave Committee" to protest underwater nuclear tests the South Pacific, which they claimed would lead to a tsunami. The French ignored the protests and went ahead with their tests. The tsunami never materialized and the protesters changed their name to the less specifically misleading and catchier Greenpeace. And Greenpeace has been making waves ever since.
The campaigners soon expanded its operations to other countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Germany, tapping an ample supply of recent university graduates and unemployed, but "concerned" twentysomethings willing to donate their time and money to the cause. Its campaigns also became more grandiose and, in some cases, violent. In 1978 Greenpeace bought an old fishing trawler with money donated by the World Wildlife Fund as part of its "save the whale" campaign. The boat was refitted, renamed the "Rainbow Warrior," and sent into battle against Iceland's tiny whaling fleet.
For years Greenpeace harassed the Icelanders, claiming that traditional whaling was threatening an endangered species. In reality, the whales near Iceland are not endangered, but they do compete with humans and other animals for fish (consuming up to 10% of the total annual catch). But Greenpeace's species-specific campaign was blind to the wider dynamics of the ocean ecosystem and Icelandic opinion. By fostering an image of Moby Dick as cuddly toy and a series of well-placed articles by a largely friendly press on several continents, Greenpeace was able to stir world opinion and exert pressure on Iceland's government, which in 1989 banned whaling. Oh, and Greenpeace made a pile of money from direct mail and other sources over the same period. Greenpeace activists are far from disinterested public servants; like the companies they oppose, they are in it for the money.
Greenpeace's operations now include a fleet of six ships, a helicopter, and a hot air balloon, which it uses to promote its peculiar brand of antiscientific, economically illiterate ecoimperialism.
Consider the Brent Spar fiasco. In June 1995 Greenpeace campaigners tied themselves to the Spar, an oil rig owned by Shell that was due to be submerged at sea. Claiming that the rig contained over 5,000 tons of oil, Greenpeace demanded that Shell dispose of it in a more "environmentally sound manner." But Greenpeace's claims had no basis in fact: The platform contained only about 75 tons of oil, a trivial amount of oil by the standards of deep-sea drilling, which would have dispersed harmlessly had the platform been dumped. Following the firebombing of several Shell service stations in Continental Europe, however, Shell caved in to the protesters and, at huge cost, the platform was carved up and used as the foundation of a Norwegian ferry quay.
For many years, Greenpeace campaigned vigorously against the use of DDT, in spite the fact that the pesticide is still considered an essential weapon in the battle against malaria in many poor countries. Both Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund sought to have DDT banned under a multilateral convention negotiated in Johannesburg, South Africa last year. However, Greenpeace was forced into an embarrassing about-face by a coalition of groups including the Save Children from Malaria Campaign, which had launched a petition against the ban that was signed by many prominent scientists.
Greenpeace has also campaigned vigorously against the cultivation of genetically modified crops, even ripping up test crops planted on private land. By preventing these experimental plantings, however, Greenpeace has made it more difficult to understand the benefits and drawbacks of genetically improved crops. Greenpeace even opposes experimental planting of "Golden Rice," which may have enormous benefits for the 500,000 children who go blind each year simply because they lack sufficient amounts of Vitamin A in their diet. Golden Rice will literally let them see again, but Greenpeace can't see the point of "tampering with nature."
But the companies producing genetically improved crops have done little to defend this technology. Think of Monsanto's million-dollar advertising campaign to defend genetically improved crops, which had an advertisement for Greenpeace at the bottom.
The truth is that Greenpeace is not interested in the real costs and benefits of new technologies. One of the founders of Greenpeace, Dr. Patrick Moore, now campaigns against the group, which he describes as "eco-extremist," because he says it is "antihuman, antitechnology, and antiscience." Paul Crutzen, another former member of Greenpeace and winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry (for his work on the ozone layer) has said of Greenpeace: "They use bad data, both for the Brent Spar and for the French nuclear tests. I am against nuclear tests, but one should use scientifically sound arguments . . . . Greenpeace has harmed the environmental case." Simon Wessely, professor of psychiatry at King's College in London, argues that by fostering undue fear among the public, Greenpeace is actually causing far more human misery than it is possibly preventing.
Greenpeace is now a multinational company, with offices in 42 countries and global operating income of around $125 million a year. But with operating expenditures of nearly $120 million -- ostensibly spent on campaigns to "save the planet" -- and only $80 million in cash reserves, it is clearly on a survival mission of its own. Unlike most multinational companies, however, Greenpeace doesn't actually sell anything useful (aside from the odd T-shirt or bumper sticker). Rather, it is in the business of crafting scary stories, in the hope that the media will pick these up and the public will give it money to campaign against the supposed problems that it highlights.
'Face the Consequences'
One of Greenpeace's recurrent campaigns is global warming. This is an issue steeped in controversy, both scientifically and politically, which affords Greenpeace ample media opportunities. Most recently, Greenpeace has been campaigning to "save the climate" following U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to walk away from the Kyoto Protocol. Greenpeace sent a letter to the top 100 U.S. companies on April 5. The letter asked the firms to state publicly that they supported the Kyoto Protocol or face the consequences. Encouragingly, only six companies responded. Pepsi, taking a principled stance, replied only to say that it has no intention of replying. ExxonMobil and Texaco said they fully support U.S. President Bush. Coca-Cola and AutoNation said they take no stand on the issue. As the Greenpeace press officer in London put it: "Perhaps these companies have better things to do with their time than respond to Greenpeace." Quite.
Some companies have learned the hard way that Greenpeace cannot be trusted; others have yet to learn. British Petroleum and Shell have gone out of their way to placate Greenpeace but this has done little to quell the group's attacks.
Greenpeace seeks to divide and conquer: To attack one part of an industry while leaving the rest untouched. But companies that are unaffected in one attack (and possibly even benefit while their rivals suffer) don't see that sooner or later they will be under attack too. How to respond? Corporations should promote their technologies without shame. Technological advances make the world a better place, so say so. Second, don't let Greenpeace hoodwink the public. If false or misleading accusations are being made, say so boldly. Finally, if your public affairs director or environment consultant says that he can cut a deal with Greenpeace, sack him.