Information On Environmental Pollution: Does Greenpeace Deliver?

Solid information on environmental pollution can be difficult to find. For one, good information on environmental pollution is frequently too technical to be of any use to anyone outside of the academy, or anyone not planning on devoting their life to understanding all the technical issues and chemical factors that make up the environment and our relation to it as human beings. For another, good information on environmental pollution is also frequently too local in its focus to be of any use to anyone not from that area. Sure, it may be interesting that desert caves in Libya are experiencing accelerated erosion as a result of magnesium deposits in nearby oases. But what does that have to do with us?

Yet it’s a given that we need good information on environmental pollution to live in the modern world. The war to protect the environment is everyone’s war; the environment itself is everyone’s battleground. Greenpeace, despite the name, is one of the organizations that uses military metaphors as a central piece of their public relations strategy. Greenpeace positions themselves as a group of “Rainbow Warriors”, dedicated to protecting the planet from its oppressors at any costs. And through their media and public outreach wings, Greenpeace positions itself as a solid source of information on environmental pollution.

But is this really the case? Is Greenpeace solely motivated by the need to deliver solid information on environmental pollution to the public at large? Or does it have another agenda, one which would lead it to distort even the facts it has sworn to protect?

Since its inception Greenpeace has been a political entity. The organization came to prominence by protesting nuclear weapons testing in Alaska, surely a political issue if there ever was one. Once the group became seaborne with the buy of their famous flagship, the “Rainbow Warrior”, they quickly became infamous in Japanese whaling circles for their deliberate interference in whaling options, an act that led to their branding as “eco-terrorists” by the Japanese government.

None of this in and of itself would make Greenpeace’s information suspicious: after all, many organizations have done worse and still provided reliable information to the public. But in a recent article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Patrick Moore, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace spoke out against increasing politicization within the Greenpeace movement, taking as his evidence their 1986 campaign against chlorine use, and their ongoing campaign against phthalate compounds used in children’s toys. According to Moore, both chemicals are perfectly safe, and are being used by Greenpeace as “hot button” issues to alarm people, and to drum up political capital for Greenpeace.

There’s no immediate reason to trust Mr. Moore over his former partners, of course, which is the problem. In the politics of environmentalism, it’s difficult to know who to trust, and the arcane scientific journals may be the only source of rock-solid information on environmental pollution we have, even if it remains a bitter and hard-to-swallow drink.