Yes, Putin’s a brute, but it’s Greenpeace who are the bigger menace to our future

By Dominic Lawson

Greenpeace, the world’s biggest and most battle-hardened environmental campaigning organisation, is in a state of shock.

Last week, Russian investigators said that they had found ‘narcotic substances’ on board Arctic Sunrise, the Greenpeace vessel they seized after its crew had used it in an attempt to storm an oil rig of the state-controlled firm Gazprom. They added that the drugs included poppy straw, an ingredient for opiates.

You would think that Greenpeace might be proud to have been identified as scrupulously organic in its drug use; but its spokesman denounced the Russians’ claim as a ‘smear, pure and simple’.

Of course, Greenpeace would never stoop to blackening the name of its opponents, would it? Or exaggerating? Or even making things up — all in the noble cause of ‘saving the planet’?

The oil business has long been the organisation’s top target. Back in 1995, Greenpeace mounted a ferocious campaign to block Shell from dismantling out at sea an offshore oil storage depot known as Brent Spar. Greenpeace claimed that it contained more than 5,500 tonnes of remaining crude oil that Shell had not managed to extract — and that its dispersal in the North Sea would amount to some sort of ecological holocaust. Shell insisted that only around 50 tonnes of the black stuff were left.

Greenpeace duly occupied Brent Spar. The force of their accompanying rhetoric — widely believed at the time — caused havoc for the Anglo-Dutch business. After two months, it backed down, pointing out that it could no longer put up with ‘violence against Shell service stations, accompanied by threats to Shell staff’.

At great cost, Brent Spar was brought back onshore, where its contents were disposed of — for no net environmental gain: even Nature magazine described this outcome as  ‘a needless dereliction of rationality’.

And it turned out that Shell had been right all along: there really were only about 50 tonnes of oil in it.

Greenpeace’s then UK ‘head of science’ sniffed that its 100-fold exaggeration of the threat was just ‘a minor mistake’.

Pictures of even a single seabird  covered with crude oil are, of course, guaranteed to keep Greenpeace in  fundraising good health.

The wider truth, however, is that the oceans can and do safely absorb vast quantities of crude oil. No permanent damage has been done to the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico by the biggest oil-spillage in history, from BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig.

Its total leakage of seven million tonnes has either evaporated or been devoured by oil-eating microbes. The stuff is 100 per cent organic, after all.

That episode has been a disaster on several levels, but none environmental. There were the horrible deaths of the 11 workers in the rig’s original blow-out; there were the billions of dollars siphoned out of BP’s shareholders (including every large British pension fund) by avaricious U.S. lawyers and their clients; and there was the dreadful waste of seven million tonnes of oil — which should, once refined, have been put to good use in the fuel tanks of motorists.

But Greenpeace regards bringing down the cost of motoring as a crime against the planet, rather than as the way in which countless millions can have an easier life.

In truth, this multinational organisation, which employs 2,200, with annual global revenues of £196 million, has a decidedly chilly attitude towards suffering humanity.

It has led a campaign to harass and frustrate ‘the Golden Rice Project’, a not-for-profit scheme backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This would modify conventional rice with the genes for beta-carotene so that it would provide much more vitamin A per mouthful.

Vitamin A deficiency kills more than a million children every year and is the most significant cause of early years’ blindness in the developing world. Boosting vitamin A in the staple diet is the obvious and cheapest solution — one that, for example, the medical authorities in the Philippines have been pleading for.

Greenpeace, however, purports to regard any form of crop genetic modification as too risky to be contemplated, let alone tested: whenever it can, it destroys such tests physically, thus showing its fundamental contempt for the scientific method.

But then its gospel is Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, which predicted that man-made pesticides would cause ‘practically 100 per cent of the human population to be wiped out from a cancer epidemic in one generation’.

That was more than 50 years ago; we’re  still here — and with a much longer  life expectancy.
Unfortunately for Greenpeace’s characteristically piratical attempt to mobilise opinion against the Russians’ exploration for oil in the Arctic, the government of President Putin is less easily swayed by adverse public relations than our own politicians are.

While many newspapers in this country seem horrified by the seizure on charges of piracy of 28 Greenpeace activists — and I would endorse the call to release the two working journalists who were on board the Arctic Sunrise — there is not much of a Russian eco-chattering class for President Putin to worry about. Nor will he be troubled by the fact that the singer Damon Albarn and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood (the woman without whom no green vigil can be called complete) have joined the demonstrations for the ‘Greenpeace 28’.

While it must be frightening and unpleasant for the Greenpeace activists to be refused bail, awaiting the possibility of a trial for piracy in Murmansk, I wonder what they had imagined would be the reaction of the Russian coastguard, defending the security of what in any waters would be a highly sensitive installation.

They had been warned to back off in the most explicit terms and told that any attempt to scale the exploration rig would be regarded as a hostile act.

They were very brave to attempt it; that I would not deny. But they cannot as of right expect our support of an attempt to sabotage the lawful activities of a Russian state-owned company — and in breach of the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, too.

It is possible that the Russian investigators have ‘smeared’ Greenpeace with their allegation of illegal drugs on board the Arctic Sunrise. Yet faced with the unenviable imaginary choice of a government run by Vladimir Putin and one by Greenpeace, I would vote for the former every time.

Putin might be a vengeful and autocratic ruler in the Russian tradition; but he is  not part of a gang of well-meaning fools seeking to drive mankind back into  pre-industrial poverty.

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