COMMENTARY: Behind the Greens:

10 Questions for Captain Paul Watson, Founder and President of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Captain Paul Watson was a co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation in 1972, and Greenpeace International in 1979. He created the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977 with the express purpose of hunting down and forcibly intervening against pirate whalers and sealers. Watson has served as Master and Commander on seven different Sea Shepherd ships since 1978, and currently commands the 657-ton Canadian-registered research ship Farley Mowat and the Canadian-registered research and patrol ship Sirenian. He was a director of Sierra Club USA between 2003 and 2006, and is currently a director of the Farley Mowat Institute.

Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson says he feels like "Dr. Frankenstein" for co-founding Greenpeace.© AP

E Magazine: What is the worst thing on the planet?

Paul Watson: The greatest threat to this planet is rising human population levels. From three billion people to nearly seven billion people in 60 years. It is these numbers that are responsible for escalating species extinctions as we literally steal the carrying capacities of other species. It is the gaseous, solid and liquid waste of these numbers that is polluting the air and water and causing escalating greenhouse gas emissions. The key to addressing all the world’s ecological problems is in reducing human populations. The goal should be under one billion.

What is your greatest environmental fear?

No species can survive on this planet without respecting the three basic laws of ecology. (1) The law of biodiversity—that the strength of an eco-system is dependent upon the diversity of species within it. (2) The law of interdependence—that these species must be interdependent to support a strong eco-system and (3) the law of finite resources—that there is a limit to growth. Growing human numbers utilized vast amounts of resources and steal carrying capacity from other species resulting in the collapse of diversity. The greatest fear is not something in the future but something happening now. We are in the midst of a mass extinction event and thus in danger of radically altering the entire biosphere.

Who is the most significant environmental figure of our time?

Certainly not any politicians that I know of. According to the media, the most significant environmental figures are actors. I personally believe that the honey bee is the most significant environmental symbol of our time. Their disappearing numbers are sending us the sternest and most dire warning ever although few are paying attention.

Are you a vegetarian? Why or why not?

Running fuel and diesel-burning ships like the Farley Mowat is Watson"s biggest environmental no-no, but by sinking whaling and poaching boats, he engages in "carbon trading."©

You cannot be an environmentalist and a conservationist if you support the meat and fishing industry. My ships are run as vegetarian/vegan vessels. We take campaigns to the coast of Antarctica to fight Japanese whalers and we do so without meat, fish, or dairy products and everyone is healthy and strong. The meat industry is a major consumer of fish meal and because of this we have turned the cow into the largest aquatic predator on the planet. The amount of water and resources utilized to raise domestic animals for food is irresponsibly high. Yes I am a vegetarian and I think vegetarianism is an essential requirement of anyone calling him or herself an environmentalist.

What non-planet-friendly thing do you continue to do?

I am a major offender because we operate large ocean-going ships to chase down whalers, sealers and poachers. This means that we use probably 500 tons of diesel fuel and 50 barrels of oil a year. Unfortunately it is the only way that I can catch the poachers. There are tens of thousands of fishing vessels consuming vast quantities of fuel in pursuit of plundering the oceans. We admit to using fuel in our efforts to stop them. However we have sunk and disabled a number of ships. That ended their careers, meaning they do not burn fuel anymore. This is our way of doing carbon trading. We are burning the fuel that the whalers and poachers are no longer burning because we shut them down. Overall it’s a net positive gain as we are using less fuel than they collectively did.

Who could be the environmental movement’s most unlikely allies?

Corporations and governments usually become allies when it is in their economic interest to do so. Even Chevron and Shell give out environmental awards. However, corporations and governments never solve social problems. They never have and they never will. They cause the problems. The solutions come from the passion and the dedicated courage of individuals and small grassroots organizations.

Which environmental group do you most admire?

I"m not a big fan of large environmental organizations. As a co-founder of Greenpeace, I feel like Dr. Frankenstein having helped to create that big green feel-good machine. As a former director of the Sierra Club I saw firsthand the insanity of bureaucratic environmentalism. Personally, I like the Wildlands Project, Rainforest Action Network, Earth Island Institute and of course the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. But more importantly I respect and admire all those free-floating individual activists who walk the walk, sit in the trees, obstruct whaling boats and blockade roads.

Which green trend do you most distrust?

Corporate environmentalism. The co-opting of the movement by mega green organizations that spew out direct mail by the millions, operate large phone solicitation schemes, and pose as the saviors of our planet while collecting large salaries and benefits without taking risks as volunteers around the world scramble in the trenches without the benefit of the same resources.

What’s your favorite Earth-friendly mode of transportation?

Sails. I would like to see the seas return to the glory days of sailing, the return of the clippers, the most efficient, environmentally friendly ships ever built. We need to remove the engine-driven vessels from our seas and restore the peace and quiet for the whales.

How could the environmental movement reinvent itself?

The environmental movement responds to the issues. It is a reactionary movement. It needs to have the vision to see the world as it will be if we continue on our present path and to visualize how it can be if we choose a different course of action. The environmental movement lacks vision and it lacks passion. We need people with the courage to actually risk their lives to protect this planet and such people are very few.

CONTACTS: The Farley Mowat Institute; Sea Shepherd Conservation Society