In perhaps the most inflammatory quote on our interview, Watson says, ‘Greenpeace is in the whaling industry. They are in the whaling industry. They make more money from whaling than Norway and Iceland does.’
He says they do this by collecting $30 to $40 million a year for opposing whaling. ‘As long as the whale hunt is going on, they make money. And that’s why they go down there every year, take some photographs, get their story, and they are out of there. They’re not going back now, because they said they don’t have the budget for it. They have $18 million in an Australian bank account. They had 172 million Euros come in last year from Greenpeace International, they have $300 million in their collective bank accounts and a $60 million building in Amsterdam. And they don’t have a budget to send a ship down there? The reason being is that they’ve milked it completely, and they’ve spent it on advertising: donate to Greenpeace. It’s just driving me nuts; every time there is a Sea Shepherd article – donate to Greenpeace. That’s where their money goes; they have invested millions of dollars on advertising.’
I ask him, if Greenpeace are not there to protect whales, what is their agenda?
‘Their agenda’, he replies, ‘is to make money. It’s the world’s largest feel-good organisation.’
‘Do you think that’s what it is?’ I ask.
‘It absolutely is,’ he says, nodding emphatically.
‘What about the people who are in Greenpeace, who are volunteering or working in it because they believe in the cause?’
He says: ‘The business-type people are there to make money, and then there are people who are used basically as cheap labour. You know, there are people who are out there taking the risk because they believe that this is the right thing to do. But it isn’t. They are part of the problem. And it’s not just Greenpeace. It’s World Wildlife Fund [WWF], and it’s the International Fund for Animal Welfare [IFAW]. [They are] all big, big, mega organisations. IFAW got a $10 million bequest last year and they built a $10 million office building with it. [He scoffs.] You know. They are robbing the small groups. All the strength of this movement lies in individuals and small organisations. Always has, always will. There’re variables there – Jane Goodall does great work and she’s got a big foundation, David Suzuki does great work – but generally that’s the problem.’
In Greenpeace’s most recent annual report from 2006, they were listed as having 119,674,000 Euro in cash and total assets of 159,600,000 Euro. IFAW had US$20,021,000 cash with total assets of US$76,614,000. It’s not clear how much Greenpeace have in Australian bank accounts or if IFAW spent a $10 million bequest on an office building. In contrast, it’s reported that the Sea Shepherd operate on US$2 million a year.
‘The whole thing is just a game,’ says Watson. ‘And I call Greenpeace the world’s biggest feel-good organisation because that’s what they’re selling. They’re selling a product, and that product is: join us – be part of the solution. You can feel real good, it doesn’t matter what you do in your life, you can eat meat, you can drive your Hummer, you can do whatever, as long as you’re a Greenpeace member, you’re part of the solution.’
In return, Greenpeace condemn Paul Watson for not only his actions, but also his criticisms of their organisation. However, if the comments regarding a recent article about the Greenpeace/Sea Shepherd stoush on LiveNews.com.au (owned by the Macquarie Radio Network in Australia) are anything to go by, then support is definitely on Sea Shepherd’s side. The opinion was that the Sea Shepherd instigated action against whaling and would be the organisation that would succeed in ending it. Greenpeace were criticised for appeasing governments and being politely inactive.
Watson seems to enjoy the action and the thrill of the chase, so it’s not surprising that it’s Greenpeace’s lack of action that frustrates him.
‘They’re not actually standing for any real change. I call them “ocean posers”. They go down there every year and they do these whale snuff flicks that are like, oh here are these whales being killed, now send money. But they don’t actually stop it.’
It’s obvious Watson is not afraid of controversy and he admits he enjoys an argument, but he says the slaughter of whales will never be an argument anyone will win with him.
‘I don’t mind debating with people – no, that’s fine. But then again, I don’t think opinions really matter too much, it’s the results of what’s happening to the planet that’s what’s important, what is happening to other species. I see no justification for the slaughter that’s going on, I see no justification. There’s no way anybody’s going to argue with me to say that’s okay, I’m never going to accept it, I don’t care what their arguments are, I’m not interested in what their arguments are.’
Action rather than complacency is his message and it’s levelled at everyone.
‘I just think people should be concerned with their own survival. And they’re not going survive if they carry on on the present course that they are following. I mean, there are sacrifices, but the fact is, we just can’t continue to destroy the planet at the rate we’re doing it. I mean, there’s a limit as to how many fish there are in the ocean. And what we are doing at the moment is adapting to diminishment. It’s this constant adaptation to diminishment which is our problem.’
Part of this action and part of the ‘sacrifice’, says Watson, is converting to vegetarianism. It’s a call to action that is guaranteed to evoke criticism from meat associations and meat-eaters worldwide. But Watson believes eating meat is unsustainable. ‘I think it’s completely unrealistic for six billion people to live on this planet and eat meat and expect to protect the environment,’ he says.
Watson says to be a conservationist you have to look into the future, and not just the short-term future. We are living in the greatest period of material excess that the planet has ever known, and according to Watson, the implications from this will be realised.
‘What the world looks like in a million years depends on what we do now. I can see 150 years into the future and what I see is a world where we’re forced to adapt to the laws of ecology because one, we are running out of energy sources and two, we’re running out of carrying capacity. So there will be a diminishment of population just because of the circumstances [that are present] ecologically – there will be an environmental collapse, really. So what we see emerging 150 years from now is a world of sailing ships and horses. We’re going to be back to the 1850s because we won’t have any other means of transportation, we’ll be back to wind power and horse power. There won’t be any fuel to burn. And if there is, it’ll be limited.’
Our material excesses and our exploitation of resources have depleted the earth. Watson says now Antarctica is the only continent left to exploit and he fears for it.
‘In 20 to 30 years, there’s going to be a major war over the resources of Antarctica. In fact, the Falkland Islands was the prelude to that. We didn’t go and fight that war over a few sheep down in the Falklands; whoever controlled the Falklands and South Georgia controls access to Antarctica … And they’re looking at it [Antarctica] now; there are 300-foot-wide open seams of coal running through the trans-Antarctica mountains. There’s cobalt, there’s uranium, there’s oil and it’s down there and they’re going to get it and they’re going to fight over it. So that’s going to be the major war of the twenty-first century.’
According to Watson, the resources war of the twenty-first century will also include water.
‘There’s going to be a war by 2030 between Canada and the United States over water. Canada’s got it and the US wants it; either give it to them or they go to war. That’s the choice that’s really going to happen. We saw what happened when California’s energy started to fail, they forced the Oregon–Washington dams to be opened, wiping out entire salmon streams, just to provide energy to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Resources dictate. That’s what all this crap in Iraq and everything is all about – just controlling oil and pipelines and everything else.’
It’s this greed for resources, power and money that really riles him. ‘I find it amazing when people say, “you’re risking your life and your crew’s life to protect a whale”. So? I mean, how more noble is that to risk your life to protect a whale than to risk your life to protect some sheik’s oil well somewhere, or to defend standard oil. It seems to me you give medals to those guys and yet they’re killing people and they’re dying; we haven’t even injured anybody and we’re getting condemned, so really it’s a double standard. It’s hard to take these criticisms very seriously, though.’
What is serious, however, is his message. And whatever his media strategies, his methods or antagonisms, or however you feel about him, you have to hand it to the man. In a society more concerned with materialism than nature, he’s been courageous, passionate and ‘driven mad with anger’ for more than 30 years to protect marine wildlife.
If he is a modern-day pirate, then he’s also a modern-day Robin Hood. He’s not stealing the gold, he’s showing us the treasure and taking every possible action to halt its plunder.
Text: Lisa Louden
Research: Steve Nietz, Lisa Louden
Photography: Dione Molnar