Watching Stephen Sackurâ€™s BBC Hard Talk interview with the retiring head of Greenpeace this week I was reminded of why I feelÂ thankful that Greenpeace campaigns so hard and soÂ persistently on climate change.Â The adversarial style of Hard Talk often grates, and it certainly did when Sackur accused Gerd Leipold of alarmism and even managed to manufacture the impression that Greenpeace claims that the whole Greenland ice sheet will have melted by 2030.Â Leipold refused to be sidetracked into defending the organisation against silly accusations, but held the line on the seriousness of the science and the need for political responses to be adequate to the science. Half measures wonâ€™t work.
Iâ€™m not a member of Greenpeace, and although Iâ€™ve always respected their commitments I havenâ€™tÂ felt equal enthusiasm for all of them.Â But on climate change I have no reservations.Â They stand firmly on the science. Â It wasÂ encouraging to hear Leipold reaffirm so strongly that it is the science which has engaged Greenpeaceâ€™s climate change concern and to be reminded that they have been attentive toÂ the scienceÂ for twenty years. Admittedly they are not cautious in sounding the appropriate alarms. Neither should they be. They are not taking part in academic exchanges, but accepting responsibility for making the effects of climate change widely known. Itâ€™s called bearing witness in the Quaker parlance which influenced Greenpeace’s philosophy. To label this alarmism is wrong. Iâ€™ve not felt Greenpeace is pushing the boundaries in its warnings.Â It doesnâ€™t need to. Leipold made it clear in the interview that the science has continued to move in the directions that Greenpeace has drawn attention to. Catastrophe is not an inappropriate word to use when pointing to the result of carrying on with business as usual. Â There is nothing to retract.Â
Greenpeace does more than warn, or course.Â It presses for appropriate solutions and Leipold remains optimistic that they will be applied.Â Sackur attacked Greenpeace for not being supportive enough of what politicians were now doing, suggesting they ought to be getting in behind leaders like Obama. The Greenpeace USA petition wasnâ€™t spelt out in the interview, but it reads:
DearÂ President Obama,
When it comes to stopping global warming, we need you to be a leader, not a politician. Show Congress and the world that America is ready to take strong and immediate action to avert a climate catastrophe.
Leipold acknowledged that things are changing on the political front, and welcomed the fact.Â But partial measures will not serve. The current Bill working through the US Congress will not on its own produce sufficient emission reductions. Â GreenpeaceÂ intends to keep emphasising that reductions must measure up to what the science says is necessary. Sackur accused them of not appreciating how difficult it is for politicians to make progress, and in effect of standing aside from the world of necessary compromise. Â But it would hardly be consistent to get immersed in the world of political compromise to the extent that the science is evaded.Â Should Greenpeace NZ give up on its campaign for 40% reduction in emissions by 2020 and bargain with the government for a 20% rather than 15% reduction? Â That would simply say that climate change is not as serious as it appears after all.
Leipold indicated that Greenpeace was seeking to focus more strongly on the energy solutions which are available to avoid worsening climate change. This provided Sackur with the opportunity to accuse them of avoiding the nuclear solution which some see as a necessary means of producing sufficient non-fossil energy to meet the worldâ€™s demand.Â It seemed apparent that Greenpeace would not oppose nuclear energy if it really was necessary, but thatâ€™s not how they see it.Â Leipold in this segment of the interview laid considerable stress on the potential of the more efficient use of energy to produce far greater savings than have yet been widely credited. We need to talk much more seriously of the use to which energy is put rather than look to more and more energy production. Â This accorded with his observation that the lifestyle of the rich in the world is simply not a sustainable model.
It was good to hear Leipold ending on an optimistic note, partly fed by his observation of the conviction and commitment he is seeing in younger people.Â Bearing witness finally worked against the slave trade. May it work against the obstinacy and ignorance which keeps us trapped on our present course.
PS. Itâ€™s not too late to join the Sign On campaign if you havenâ€™t already done so.