Part II--Making Sense Out of Environmental Policy: Interview with Dr. Patrick Moore
Patrick Moore, author of ‘The Sensible Environmentalist’ column and supporter of the forest products industry, answers questions in part two of an exclusive interview.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 3/1/2006
This is the second of a two part interview with Dr. Patrick Moore, a respected ecologist and environmental activist. Dr. Moore was one of the original founders of Greenpeace and has been a popular speaker at forest products industry meetings over the last few years. Since leaving Greenpeace in 1986, Dr. Moore has become a supporter of sustainable forestry.
Dr. Moore has written a book about the importance of trees and the forest products industry to the health of the global environment. Called Green Spirit – Trees are the Answer, Dr. Moore’s book demonstrates that rather than reducing wood consumption, people should be planting more trees and using more renewable wood in order to reduce our reliance on non-renewable fuels and materials.
Pallet Enterprise: You just came back from a U.S. meeting on climate change. What about calls by foreign leaders for U.S. to sign the Kyoto Protocol?
Moore: The irony of the situation is that the Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, who was hosting the meeting, was openly critical of the United States, yet Canada’s record under Kyoto is worse than that of the Americans.
The U.S. has openly committed to reducing its Greenhouse gasses to 6% of 1990 levels by year 2012. At the present time, Canada is 25 % above 1990 levels and projections would take it to 40% above 1990 levels by the year 2012. Meanwhile, the U.S. is only 14% above 1990 levels projections today and will likely reach 20% above by 2012. Canada’s increase is about double the U.S. rate.
Canada is a complete embarrassment as far as I’m concerned because they signed the thing committing to it, but have not complied. At least the U.S. government was honest. The American position was we don’t want to sign this because we don’t think we can do it…Or at least we don’t want to do this.
Pallet Enterprise: What is your view on the science behind global warming? Is it really as big of a problem as many experts make it out to be?
Moore: The people who are saying there is no longer any need for debate are the ones who would stifle debate. They think they’re right. The fact is that there is huge discussion about global warming. There are a lot of climatologists who do not accept that humans are the definite cause of the climate change. Most of them admit that humans could be part of it or maybe some or most of it, but we don’t know that. Then there are the people who say there is a consensus among scientists that we know for sure that humans are causing this climate change and we know for sure that it will be bad.
Those are the two different questions of course; whether or not we are causing it on the one hand and on the other hand whether or not it will be all bad. I personally believe that we don’t know if we are causing it all. But even if we assume that we are causing it, some positive impacts will result. As usual, when there’s change there are going to be winners and losers. If you focus on the losers, like a lot of people seem to be doing, then certain island states will have the water level rise, and there may be drought in other places. But there may also be deserts blooming somewhere. There may be increased fishery productivity and a whole bunch of positive things, such as, longer growing seasons, shorter winters, reduced energy requirements, and forests growing in areas that are now just tundra.
There are all kinds of possibly positive impacts from climate change. The activist groups and a lot of political people seem to think there’s an advantage for them to be accentuating the negatives, the climate catastrophes and the climate apocalypses. They talk about global warming plunging Europe into the dark ages when, in fact, we’re in a cold period right now compared to most of the earth’s history. During much of the earth’s history there was no ice at either pole. Then there was a time hundreds of millions of years ago when it froze nearly to the equator due to a real cold period. And for the last two million years we’ve been in the Pleistocene period, otherwise known as the “Ice Age.”
Pallet Enterprise: When authorities have only kept written weather records for a short period time, how do scientists know for a fact what the weather was like thousands of years ago? Is it all just guesstimation?
Moore: We can’t get the whole picture, but by sediment samples and ice cores, isotope analysis, etc. scientists can actually reconstruct the temperature of the climate as far back as a billion years. This is reasonably accurate. They can see when there were ice ages and when there were warm periods. They can tell by the vegetation record to a certain extent what the climate was like at different times in the past.
Through the fossil records they are able to reconstruct the great extinctions that took place two hundred fifty million years ago and then again 65 million years ago. They are pretty good at piecing things together with carbon dating and other isotopes looking at different elements and the isotopic ratios. It’s amazing what they can figure out.
Pallet Enterprise: Why is it that everything that is primary, something that man has never touched, is viewed as sacred by the environmental movement?
Moore: Due to the perception that primary forests or land that has not been touched is diminishing in quantity, therefore it must be appreciating in value. Since it is scarce, it must be valuable. That’s why there’s a perception that we have very little wild nature left in this world, which is true in some parts of the world, like the Northeastern United States. But at the same time, the forest cover in the Northeast has virtually doubled in the past 100 years. And so has the forest cover of the Southern United States.
We know for a fact that the forests contain more wood than they did 50 years ago, and they cover approximately the same area they did 100 years ago. The problem with these people is they discount second growth forests as if they are made of plastic trees. They don’t seem to have a problem counting second growth forests that have grown back after natural wildfires or volcanic destruction or floods or insect attacks. Apparently those are ok. But the kind that grow back after people have cut down the trees is some how bad or of less value.
Pallet Enterprise: Yes, that doesn’t make sense. One of the things we’ve been dealing with in the sawmill and pallet industries is the phytosanitary issue. A number of states are pushing the federal government to look to alternatives to wood because of the perceived risk of wood packaging. Why does it seem plastic seems to get a pass on a lot of environmental issues and wood is always portrayed as the bad guy?
Moore: The same reason coal powered fired plants don’t seem to get as much attention as nuclear powered plants, even though they are the ones producing all the CO2 and air pollution. Environmental groups focus on nuclear energy. It’s a similar situation. It’s the same reason that the green building standard of the U.S. discriminates against wood in favor of steel and concrete.
It has to do with an extremely dysfunctional policy framework in the environmental movement itself. This is to a large extent why I left Greenpeace 20 years ago because they started adopting policies that had no basis in science or logic. They developed policies that were purely political. And primarily based on scare tactics like longhorn beetles destroying the forests, like nuclear energy giving everyone cancer, like cutting down trees and destroying the biodiversity in the forests.
Pallet Enterprise: Are you familiar with the phytosanitary issues specifically regarding wood packaging?
Moore: No, it’s not my specialty, but I know that phytosanitary concerns are being used as a non-tariff trade barrier all over the place.
Pallet Enterprise:For years, plastic has been presented by some as the environmentally friendly alternative for wood packaging. Do you believe plastic is better for the environment?
Moore: No, plastic is not the best environmental option for packaging. For starters, wood that’s going into pallets would be chipped if it wasn’t made into pallets. So, you’d make paper out of it instead. This is not as high a use in terms of the value you’d get for the wood, right?
Plastic requires more energy to produce and is made from a non-renewable resource. Also, plastic causes disposal problems.
Pallet Enterprise: One controversial issue in front of Congress right now is salvage logging. Some lawmakers are pushing for shorter timelines because they claim the timber is no good if the process lags on for an extended period of time. The major environmental groups oppose these changes claiming that the timber should not be harvested. They claim that industry will use salvage as a red herring to log healthy trees.
Moore: Yes, their position is absolutely insane. These fools in the environmental movement want to protect burned timber. Then what’s the alternative, go cut green timber? If they would let the salvage logging go ahead in the burned areas, then there wouldn’t be as much need to cut primary forests. It’s insane. Not only that, revenue from salvage timber is one way we could pay for the reforestation effort.
Pallet Enterprise: Jerry Franklin, a well known forestry scientist, testified in front of Congress that if you’re going to be dealing with areas that are
Moore: We have these millions of acres of catastrophic fires. There’s no way you’re going to go in and cut all the dead trees. It’s always just about salvaging the best timber in the best locations where you can get in. You’re not going to go on the cliff sides. There are plenty of dead trees to go around to create habitat for deer and other species.
Pallet Enterprise: So your attitude is, yeah get what you can get and leave the other areas for deer and other wildlife habitat?
Moore: Maybe they should have a rule that you can only take 75% of the dead trees. Look, if it’s dead trees they’re looking for, they can go look through the whole U.S. western federal forests and you’ll find enough dead trees to nest 10 million nesting birds or whatever it is they’re worried about. There’s no problem with the kind of habitat produced by wildfire. There’s plenty of that to go around.
Pallet Enterprise: Some anti-logging groups contend that timber harvesting causes more problems with water quality, sedimentation, etc. than just leaving the land alone. How would you respond to their position?
Moore: It doesn’t cause as much as a catastrophic wildfire; that’s for sure. That’s the end game. All you have to do is go and look at or drive through the Sierra Nevada these days, every approach to the high country the forests are burned all around.
Pallet Enterprise: The forest products industry takes a beating in the press for causing lots of environmental damage. It seems like the industry is blamed for everything from forest fires to species extinction to just about any other catastrophe greens can think up. What do you think the industry can do to fight falsehood and negative stereotypes?
Moore: Yes, climate change takes a lot of rap for things too. They could be neck and neck. The real question is the forest products industry causing the climate change or is climate change ruining the forest products industry? All joking aside, I really wish the industry had continued to support the Wood Promotion Network. It really is disheartening to see a program like this get started and then not even get a decent five year run.
Pallet Enterprise: What happened to the Wood Promotion Network?
Moore: The big timber companies dropped their support. People have taken it over and completely reinvented the wheel. They have taken it down a completely different track, and I’m not too pleased with the results myself.
Pallet Enterprise: The interests of the private timber companies have not always been the same as those of the small ones. Did this factor at all in the decision to drop support of the program?
Moore: The Wood Promotion Network wasn’t on one side or the other of that issue. They had put together a coalition of about 400 forest companies and suppliers across the United States and Canada. It was an international effort with both countries.
And I think it was a dumb move to pull the rug out from under the Wood Promotion Network. They killed it by cutting budgets every year. A thousand little cuts did in the program. It was actually a very successful initiative even though it needed 10 times as much money as it ever got. The forest products industry has still never mounted a successful national TV campaign. A 200 billion dollar industry can’t mount a successful TV campaign?
Pallet Enterprise: The major environmental groups always talk about fighting the big money of the timber companies. But in fact, it seems to me that the environmental lawyers are the ones with the big pocketbooks. Wouldn’t you agree?
Moore: Yes, the environmental groups have way outspent the timber industry on the public relations battle. That’s a fact. I have told everyone from the CEOs to the rank and file in the forest industry that their problem is they have a wholesale mentality. But in reality, they have a retail problem. They just don’t seem to be able to understand that they have to behave like Nike, Home Depot, Wal-mart and IBM. They can’t just behave like commodities traders selling boxcars of lumber and loads of pulp. Retail companies put a considerable percentage of their annual sales into advertising and promotion. In the forest industry, a trader makes a call to his customer and asks him how many boxcars of whatever he wants this week. They don’t understand that the industry should be on TV everyday on all the networks telling people the true story of the forest industry. Until that happens, they will continue to lose. Frankly in some ways, they deserve to lose if they can’t figure that out. They’ve been told about it for a long time.
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