A generation of Americans grew up watching Greenpeace activists on TV protecting whales and baby seals from slaughter, protesting against atmospheric nuclear testing and, basically, putting their lives in danger in a crusade on behalf of the environment.
Patrick Moore was a founding member of that group. To many, Moore and his band were heroes. Certainly Greenpeace continues to bask in their victories. On the other hand, a generation of industry executives believe Greenpeace has gone too far.
When Greenpeace tars PVC as the ``poison plastic,'' vinyl industry leaders get steamed. They want to discuss the facts and debate the life-cycle effects of PVC vs. competing materials.
But Greenpeace, critics say, is more interested in emotional pleas, publicity stunts and press releases than scientific debates. Today, more often than not, Moore is on industry's side.
Who is Moore? He's a former university professor and scientist - he has a doctorate in ecology - who helped found Greenpeace three decades ago. Today, he's still talking about the same topics, but now he's on the opposite side of the picket signs. Moore wants to save the earth through things like geothermal heating, aquaculture and forestry.
To mainstream environmentalists, Moore is a sellout - an eco-traitor. His explanation? He was tired of protesting and wanted to help the environment without being anti-civilization.
``I wanted to be in favor of stuff,'' he said.
Moore is founder of a group called Greenspirit, which he said takes a common-sense approach to today's issues. He makes a nice living speaking to industry groups and consulting.
I listened to Moore at the Chemical Fabrics and Film Association annual meeting April 19 in Cleveland. He delivered an entertaining, fact-filled talk to a very friendly audience. He reviewed the early days of Greenpeace, then quickly moved to other issues, including PVC, which he said groups want to ban from the construction and medical markets despite ``no measurable evidence of harm.''
Moore boils issues down to simple terms, like John Stossel in his ``Give me a break'' segments on ABC News' 20/20 program.
Greenpeace, Moore said, has moved away from science and taken increasingly strident, anti-capitalist stands. ``We can't drop our guard, because these people are fanatics,'' he said.
Certainly the issues are more complex than Moore implies. He dismisses Health Care without Harm and the Healthy Building Network as groups that want to ban PVC for no reason. Manufacturers may disagree with those groups' reasons - there's nothing wrong with that - but it isn't fair to pretend that concerns about DEHP leaching from medical devices, for example, just don't count.
Moore's role in the debate is interesting. If he's an apologist, he's got excellent credentials and deserves a chance to be heard. If he's the industry cheerleader, at least he's a good one. At the Cleveland meeting, attendees seemed to leave with the same idea: We need to get this message to employees, customers - even the public. The plastics industry is full of people who consider themselves environmentalists. Moore speaks their language, and his ideas resonate.
Don Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News.