Fiddling As The Earth Burns
By Captain Paul Watson
25 March, 2006
day we are assaulted by politicians and some media attacking us for
being alarmists and accusing us of exaggerating the threats facing the
environment and especially our concerns for biodiversity diminishment
and human population growth.
According to these voices
of denial, the world is in great shape and there is no need to worry
about global warming, climate change, species extinction, pollution,
or anything else.
Apparently the only thing
that matters in the view of these critics is that the stock market is
active and the business of exploiting the world’s resources not
be interfered with.
They call us doom and gloom
Cassandra’s although they obviously know little about the famed
prophetess of Troy because if they did, they would know that although
she did indeed predict doom and gloom for Troy, she was right and the
destruction of Troy could have been prevented if her father King Priam
or her brothers Hector and Paris had only bothered to listen to her.
After more than three solid
decades of being a front line activist for wildlife and habitat conservation,
I have come to the conclusion that pretty much all of these critics
have no idea about what they are talking about. They have no grounding
in the reality of the natural world and spend most of their time distracted
by mystical fantasies and the selfish pursuit of material pleasures.
The simple fact is that
if anyone is unaware of the grave problems that threaten the survival
of life on this planet then they are anthropocentrically arrogant or
just plain willfully ignorant.
I attended the United Nations
Conference on the Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and again in Rio
de Janeiro in 1992. Both those conferences vividly illustrated the problems.
Both conferences made promises to address the problems and after more
than 30 years, not a thing has been done to follow through on dealing
with these very same problems. Instead we have more and graver problems.
Humanity simply lacks the
political, cultural, social and economic motivation to do anything to
tackle the issues of global warming or the destruction of bio-diversity
on the planet.
Humanity has been busy for
decades drafting and posting plenty of impressive documents, treaties,
regulations, laws and conventions but aside from wasting great quantities
of paper, little is actually done to enforce the rules. We love to have
conversations about conservation, we just don’t get around to
This week the United Nations
issued a 92 page Biodiversity Outlook Report. Like every other U.N.
previously released report, this warning will be predictably filed and
The report states that humans
are responsible for the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs
and urges nations to make unprecedented extra efforts to reach a goal
of slowing losses by 2010.
Of course we have heard
this all before and predictably this warning will go ignored and will
be attacked for being hysterically alarmist. According to the report,
habitats ranging from coral reefs to tropical rainforests face mounting
The Secretariat of the U.N.
Convention on Biological Diversity issued the report at the start of
a March 20-31 U.N. meeting in Curitiba, Brazil.
According to the report,
humans are currently responsible for the sixth major extinction event
in the history of earth, and the greatest since the dinosaurs disappeared,
65 million years ago. Apart from the disappearance of the dinosaurs,
the other “Big Five” extinctions were about 205, 250, 375
and 440 million years ago. Scientists suspect that asteroid strikes,
volcanic eruptions or sudden climate shifts may explain the five.
This time, we humans will
be the cause for the massive extinction of our fellow Earthlings.
An escalating human population
now exceeding 6.5 billion has undermined the carrying capacity for animals
and plants as a result of increasing pollution, expanding cities, deforestation,
the introduction of “alien species” and global warming.
The report estimates that
the current rate of extinction is 1,000 times faster than historical
rates, jeopardizing a global goal set at a 2002 U.N. summit in Johannesburg
to achieve by 2010, a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity
losses. This means that “unprecedented additional effort”
will be needed to achieve the 2010 biodiversity target at national,
regional and global levels. This report is gloomier than the first U.N.
review of the diversity of life issued in 2001.
According to the “Red
List” compiled by the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature (IUCN), 844 animals and plants are known to have gone extinct
in the last 500 years, ranging from the Dodo to the Golden Toad in Costa
Rica. It says the figures are underestimated.
The report states that the
direct causes of biodiversity loss -- habitat change, over-exploitation,
the introduction of invasive alien species, human population increases,
nutrient loading and climate change -- show no sign of abating.
The report urges increased
efforts to safeguard habitats ranging from deserts to jungles and better
management of resources from fresh water to timber. About 12 percent
of the Earth’s land surface is in protected areas, against just
0.6 percent of the oceans.
The report states that the annual net loss of forests was 18 million
acres -- an area the size of Panama or Ireland -- from 2000-2005.
Just another report of gloom
and doom to be issued, reported by some media, and destined to be ignored.
We fight a losing battle,
especially out on the oceans where there are fantastic profits to be
made from illegal exploitation of marine species yet very little economic
incentive to protect these species.
Added to this is the corporatization
of environmental groups as they evolve into national and international
feel good businesses. People literally join them to feel good and then
the groups juggle a mixture of fear-mongering and pseudo-solutions to
make it appear that progress is being made.
There is however plenty
to be fearful about. The mass disappearance of animal and plant species,
the global destruction of coral reefs, the melting of the ice shelves,
the toxification of the oceans, deforestation, etc. If people are not
afraid for the future, they are simply not paying attention to what
is happening to the world around them.
Yet these large groups of
which I am the co-founder of one (Greenpeace) and presently a national
director of another (The Sierra Club USA) are simply strumming banjos
and tapping their feet to the fiddles as the environment deteriorates
around them. The waste of funds on triviality by all these organizations
We have lost our great bellowing
voices like David Brower and Edward Abbey. We are rapidly losing the
passion that built this movement to people more concerned about investment
portfolios and political posturing.
There still are individuals
fighting the good fight and some of these individuals are in a position
to be heard and to be effective. But their numbers are so small and
We have Elizabeth May with
the Sierra Club of Canada still leading the charge against the enemies
of the environment in Canada. In the United States the Club has devolved
into a xenophobic paranoid group of eco-papists more concerned about
appeasing the Democratic Party, the Christian Right, trophy hunters,
and the politically correct than they are about actually saving the
Thankfully we still do have
individuals like Jane Goodall and Birute Galdikas, Dave Foreman and
Yvon Chouinard amongst others still fighting the odds to champion specific
species, or habitats or working to provide environmentally non-harmful
But we have few politicians
even remotely concerned about environmental issues and no one wants
to touch the issue of population. Even a hint that one may think there
is a population problem is an invitation to be stamped with the label
of racist or misanthrope.
We have groups like Greenpeace
raising money to bear witness to all the destruction. They hang banners
and indulge in plenty of media posturing events but they are doing relatively
very little and certainly not much relative to the big bucks they bring
in. The bulk of their funds get channeled into fund-raising and administration
activities and their legendary boats have become expensive media props.
We have the World Wildlife
Fund collecting money at airports to save wildlife as they condone seal
hunts, the fur trade and sport hunting. They have not even been able
to protect their symbol the Panda.
On the other hand we have
groups like Earth Island, Wild Aid, Sea Shepherd and others that despite
the relative lack of funds can still direct volunteers into the front
lines to actually save species and habitats.
The paradox is that the
groups with the money do relatively little in comparison to the groups
without the money.
The reason for this is that
power corrupts and most groups lose their ideals and original objectives
when they reach a certain level of bureaucratic complexity.
Bureaucracy translates into
ineffectiveness and the inability for anyone to make an intelligent
I have almost completed
my three year term as a Sierra Club director and looking back I am hard-pressed
to see where we discussed much about conservation and the environment
For three years we have
been locked into inane debates over administration, election of directors,
staff issues, changing the rules to protect the Club from conservationist
idealists and other boring non-relative issues. During the last meeting,
the topic was raised about our fiduciary responsibility to our members
to make money on our investments by lifting some of the environmental
screens on these investments.
The movement to un-democratize
and make the Sierra Club boringly administrative is moving right along
and this year for the first time there were no petition candidates for
the Board of Directors. They had all been bullied off by the sheer power
of the Club’s Executive Directors’ influence backed up by
Club legal, public relations and financial resources. The Executive
director and his staff even thought it was amusing to put up a web page
featuring Club leaders posing with their trophy killed animals and fish.
The Sierra Club now condemns
sprawl without citing population increase as a reason for sprawl. The
Club now wants to restore the Colorado River without removing dams.
The Club wants to be seen as the vanguard of the environmental movement
while maintaining the status quo. After all there are Club jobs and
benefits at stake and they have no intention of having unpaid volunteer
idealistic directors like Ben Zuckerman, Lisa Force, Doug LaFollette.
Marcia Hanscom, myself and others upset their little nest egg.
This planet will not be
saved by their eco-institutions. They are simply a distraction and a
bottomless pit for well-intentioned donations siphoned off for the material
support of eco-bureacrats, mundane and useless reports, boring committee
meetings, and conferences that serve as a forum for people to sell t-shirts
and remind each other that we have problems that some day we really
How can I say this more
The fact is that the oceans
are dying. That is a fact backed up by so many damn research studies,
reports, conference results and expert opinions. The problem is that
there are research studies, reports, conference results and expert opinions
to say just the opposite and since the money is to be made from those
who promote the sunny and bright approach, that is where we sit –
in the sun watching the world turn to shit at our own hands.
People are either making
money off of exploiting the planet or they are making money off of saving
the planet. Very little money is actually being spent to protect the
An example is the plight
of the whales. Groups raised a few million pounds to unsuccessfully
“protect” a whale caught accidentally in the Thames River.
Around the world the large organizations raise tens of millions of dollars
to “protect” and “save” the whales.
Yet when two of my crew
dive into the water in Japan to cut the nets to save 15 dolphins from
certain death, they are condemned as “radicals.” When I
chase outlaw pirate whale killers out of the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary,
I am called a “renegade.”
In fact anytime anyone actually
does something physically, they can expect to be condemned. The conservation
movement seems to only value action on paper.
“Wow, we had a successful
global warming conference in Montreal.” I heard one Greenpeace
spokesperson say. “We really got to talk about the problem.”
Or, “we got an editorial
in the New York Times, man that’ll show Bush we mean business.”
Or, “we have twenty
million pieces of mail out there asking for support to end the seal
hunt. That will give us enough support to finance mailing out another
twenty million pieces of mail.”
The fact is that wildlife
rangers in Africa, South America and Asia need vehicles, rifles and
funds to stop poachers. The Galapagos needs resources to stop poachers.
My request to the Sierra Club for financial help for the Galapagos rangers
was met with the argument that I would have to go through the international
committee and they decided that the Galapagos was not a priority. What
is a priority is sending Sierra Club International Committee members
on junkets to attend conferences in Bangkok or Halifax.
The fact is that logging
roads need to be blocked and illegal logging needs to be stopped in
the courts or on the road. The fact is that funds are needed to directly
combat illegal fishing.
We have talked about the
issues for years and we have done little. And when we do something,
anything we are condemned.
We need to drop net-rippers
on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland to stop illegal trawlers. We need
to aggressively promote birth control and encourage people to voluntarily
reduce the number of children they inflict upon the Earth. We need to
change our diets, our habits and our material desires and we need to
end our addiction to oil.
President George Bush and
Sierra Club Director Carl Pope have both said we need to end our addiction
to oil. They are both posturing, saying what people want to hear in
a passive aggressive attitude of “do what I tell you but not as
One of the Sierra Club directors
who was so viciously vilified by the Old Guard in the Club is Dr. Ben
Zuckerman, a distinguished astronomer from UCLA who was viciously dismissed
for his views on population. Yet Ben practices what he preaches. He
has had no children and avoids driving a car, preferring to utilize
public transport to walk.
This is the man that I have
heard other directors and Club staff say, “Thank God he’s
not around anymore.”
Thanks to the Club’s
actions in making it more difficult to be elected to the Board, exemplary
directors like Ben Zuckerman will not be allowed to taint the Board
with “radical” ideas like addressing population growth.
And they will be very relieved when I am no longer on the board to question
their dietary priorities or question their right to shoot a moose.
Yes, just another report
of gloom and doom. Species extinction blah, blah, destruction of habitats,
blah, blah blah.
Break out more fiddles and
strum those banjos louder because humanity does not want to know what
is coming down the road towards us.
Bird flu, hey we’ll
deal it it when it gets here. Running out of water, we can always invade
Canada. Species extinction, who needs bugs and rats. Over-population,
hey we need votes, donors and consumers – it’s the economy
Yes Sir, just another report.
Life goes on. Or will it?
Captain Paul Watson
Founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (1977)
Co-Founder of Greenpeace International (1979)
Co-Founder of the Greenpeace Foundation (1972)
National Director of the Sierra Club USA (2003-2006)
Director of the Farley Mowat Institute