Sumatra Showdown: Why a Former Greenpeace Activist Is Now Backing a Controversial Paper Company

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Asia Pulp and Paper, a subsidiary of Sinar Mas, has a Greenpeace-fueled reputation of destroying Sumatran rainforest areas. APP's reputation is so tarnished that heavyweights like Staples and Office Depot have stopped stocking paper from the company. But Patrick Moore, a formerly prominent Greenpeace activist, is defending APP's practices. Why?

In the 1970s, Moore was an important figure in Greenpeace Canada, where he claims to have served "in the top committee" during his entire 15-year tenure (a Greenpeace fact sheet on Moore admits that he "played a significant role in Greenpeace Canada for several years"). But Moore, who holds a PhD in ecology, tells Fast Company that his fellow directors "began to adopt positions on chemicals, biology, and complicated issues that I could not defend from my scientific background and understanding."

So in 1986, Moore left the organization. He spent some time fish-farming and joined the Forest Alliance of British Columbia (a group started by logging companies). In 2001, he launched the environmental consulting firm Greenspirit Strategies, which works with clients in the nuclear, mining, and forestry industries, among others.

That brings us to the present day, and Moore's defense of APP against attacks from Greenpeace. Last year, Greenpeace released a report entitled "Pulping the Planet", which accuses APP of destroying two important rainforest areas in Sumatra—Kerumutan, a location covered in "carbon-rich" peatlands, and the Bukit Tigapuluh Forest Landscape, a spot filled with orangutans and tigers. The report features photos, complete with GPS coordinates, of species-rich areas that APP has supposedly destroyed.

Moore, a subcontractor hired by APP to investigate its Indonesian operations, denies all of it. The deforestation? APP reforests sustainably logged areas with new fast-growing trees (i.e. eucalyptus trees). "I believe it's reforestation," he says. "Plantation forestry is the opposite of deforestation." In any case, Moore claims, real deforestation is caused by desperate peasants migrating into forests for agricultural production. According to Moore, the best solution to avoiding illegal encroachment is to give peasants job opportunities—much like APP and its pulpwood suppliers are doing.

All those scary pictures outfitted with GPS coordinates? "That's what it looks like right after you cut the trees, rather than a year later when it looks beautiful and green," he says. "These are areas that have been designated for growing and harvesting trees." Moore even wrote a 43-page paper defending his stance.

Greenpeace, of course, is enraged by Moore's claims, as well as his repeated reminders that he used to work for the organization. Greenpeace even has a fact sheet up dispelling many of Moore's claims over the years, including this one:

According to Moore, logging is good for forests causing reforestation, not deforestation. TRUTH: Webster's Dictionary defines deforestation as "the action or process of clearing of forests." The argument advanced by forest industry spin-doctors that clear-cutting "causes reforestation, not deforestation" is without basis in fact. It is like arguing that having a heart attack improves your health because of the medical treatment you receive afterwards.

Moore thinks Greenpeace's attacks are misdirected. "If they want to blame somebody, blame the government," he says. "This is the government of Indonesia's land, given through concession to be used by APP to grow trees to make paper. I don't think there's anything sinister about that."

Who is correct: Moore or Greenpeace? It's hard to say for certain without flying over to Indonesia and checking out APP's lands. But according to SourceWatch, Moore has a history of making controversial environmental statements (Moore on mining: "Since my entry into the global environmental movement in 1971, mining has contributed significantly to a more sustainable world economy, and key beneficiaries of this progress are mining workers, families and communities").

But ultimately, while Moore may have been paid to give an objective evaluation of APP's operations, the fact remains that he was paid by the company. Greenpeace was not.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

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1 Comments

  • S Hagell

    Excellent article and, speaking as someone with a PhD in Forestry, planted monocultures are not ecologically equivalent to native tropical forest. One interesting piece of information that you mention is that these areas included peatlands. The draining and burning of peat is responsible for 6-10% of global man-made CO2 emissions.