"Oil sands developers sell much-needed fuel at a profit and leave the land cleaner than when they found it. That's good enough for me." This is hardly the viewpoint one might expect from the co-founder of Greenpeace. Dr. Patrick Moore, who spoke at a Fraser Institute luncheon in Vancouver on Monday, is an unlikely advocate for the expansion and legitimacy of the Alberta oil sands. Yet he firmly believes Greenpeace and other green groups are wrong to demonize the industry, and asserts their environmental campaigns are increasingly based on fear rather than fact.
The "Greenpeace dropout"
Dr. Moore helped found Greenpeace in 1971 and left it 15 years later, disillusioned with the members' radical anti-science agenda. Now he is an outspoken critic of the "dream fantasy agendas" that mark many a modern green group, and a staunch defender of pragmatic energy policies. The Alberta oil sands, in his view, represent one of Canada's most important and innovative industries.
Not only is oil sands development essential, Dr. Moore argues, but developers often leave the production sites in better environmental shape than they were before oil was taken from the land. Companies are required by law to return their mine sites to thriving ecosystems. Dr. Moore recalls visiting one such reclamation site, where a herd of more than 300 wood bison roamed the land, managed by the Fort McKay First Nation. Trees, shrubs and lakes can return to a former mine site in a blink of Mother Nature's eye.
Ask Greenpeace, though, and this temporary disturbance to the land is portrayed as nothing less than a mini-apocalypse. The group takes aerial pictures of oil sands mines in the middle of operations and falsely implies that this is how they will always look. This is one way such activists distort the debate on environmental issues. Other tactics include peddling unproven beliefs as fact and denouncing those who disagree as "environmental criminals."
Much of this activism is simply misdirected, but there is also a certain hypocrisy among environmentalists who demonize oil companies while using oil to run their cars, heat and cool their homes, and otherwise enjoy a society that depends on oil for over one-third of its energy. Dr. Moorerelates the story of the "Greenpeace diesel dilemma," in which Greenpeace members had strong words for a Swedish plant that used wind power when it could, but coal as a backup. Those same members' brand-new ship, which they so proudly touted as wind-powered, relied on regular diesel, not bio-diesel -- Greenpeace is against bio-fuels such as wood, which is scorned as a "Stone-Age fuel" despite being the most abundant renewable energy on the planet -- when the wind died down or blew them the wrong way.
Getting a green grip
Too few environmentalists propose sensible solutions to energy problems, says Dr. Moore. "Apparently it is reasonable to be 'just against' oil pipelines, or 'just against' oil tankers." Activists condemn pipelines and tankers without bothering to explain how Canada would function if Alberta oil could not get to market. This knee-jerk "No!" should not be a satisfactory response.
Dr. Moore says that while Greenpeace's influence over public opinion remains strong, its influence on policy is thankfully waning. This is perhaps the result of the European debt crisis, which was caused in large part by "following Greenpeace's advice" on energy policy. Because wind power and solar power require massive subsidies to compete in the energy market, only countries with money to burn or citizens to tax can afford them -- and burn and tax they have.
Two recent events have given Dr. Moore hope for the future: Canada's abandonment of the Kyoto protocol, "which was a stupid idea to begin with," and the European Parliament's decision not to attend the Rio+20 conference (also called Earth Summit 2012) in Brazil, the stated reason for which is "prohibitively high hotel costs." Dr. Moore believes the public is steadily becoming less enamoured with costly and unreliable alternative energy sources. This is a good thing.
After years of fighting for fact-based environmentalism, Dr. Moore feels that "the chickens are finally coming home to roost." By emphasizing science over sensationalism, he believes the world can meet its energy needs both sustainably and economically.
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