You Can’t Destroy a Movement: Interview with Captain Paul Watson Part III
Editor’s Note: This is Part III of an interview series collaboration between Michele Sciurba, Sarah Schuster and Captain Paul Watson. Paul Watson was one of the founding members of Greenpeace and when he left, he founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society dedicated to marine conservation and environmental activism. To read Part I, click here. To read Part II, click here.
We met Captain Paul Watson and his wife Yana Rusinovich on the occasion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris only one week after the Paris attacks that aimed to kill as many innocent victims as possible. This tragic event was one issue weighing heavily on our minds. The dying of our oceans and the extinction of numerous animal and plant species was another: 50 percent of currently existing species will disappear from our planet by the end of the century if we don’t change the course of our actions. It was impressive to see how Paul Watson kept his spirit up with a great sense of humor, a positive attitude and a highly empathetic approach. “You can take down an individual, you can take down an organization, but you can’t destroy a movement,” he said, knowing that we all must work together to solve a problem that is certainly bigger than all of us. Here are highlights of our conversation.
ON RELIGION, ENVIRONMENT, POLITICS & PIRATES
Michele Sciurba: Water is an environmental but also highly political issue. For the last 20 years, Nestlé is making water unavailable for many poor people around the world by hoarding water resources.
Paul Watson: Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola make more money out of water than they make out of Coca-Cola. Concerning food and water, Sea Shepherd ships are all vegan vessels because we try to set an example. It’s not an animal rights point of view; it’s a conservationist point of view. Meat production is the biggest cause of global warming and ground water pollution. It just isn’t natural for seven and a half billion meat eating primates to live on the planet. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “Cowspiracy?” Two 19-year-old guys from California asked: “They are telling us to take short showers to conserve water but it takes 240 liters of water to make one hamburger. So why are we taking short showers?” The film crew went to different environmental groups, asking them this question. Greenpeace refused to be interviewed.
Sarah Schuster: Why did Greenpeace not make a comment on camera?
PW: The movie shows it very well. Sea Shepherd is the only organization that actually says that meat production is a problem. The Sierra Club and other organizations didn’t comment because they were afraid of losing members. That is also the reason why the Sierra Club or Greenpeace don’t support vegetarianism. They want a big tent with lots of people in it that give money and the more restrictive you go, the less support you get. Greenpeace has become quite a bureaucracy. Actually, this year they were looking for a new CEO for Greenpeace and just for fun I applied for the job.
SS: Did you get a reply?
PW: Oh yeah, they actually interviewed me for it. They hired a company in Chicago to do the interviews. I had more experience than anybody and I was the co-founder of Greenpeace, so I had that going for me. They asked, “How much do you want to be paid.” I said, “I will do it for a dollar. A dollar a year.” They were not going to get anybody for less. So they said, “You are an ideal candidate for this but we are going in a different direction in the future, so we’re having somebody else completely.” Some Harvard business graduate is where you’re going, I thought, but I didn’t say anything to them. I knew I wasn’t going to get the job. It’s interesting how a lot of people use big environmental groups for big corporations: The former president of the Sierra Club now works for Walmart. The former president of Greenpeace Canada, Patrick Moore, now works for companies like Monsanto. He really embarrassed himself a couple of months ago. On French television he said, “Oh yeah, Monsanto’s Roundup is perfectly safe to drink.” Then the reporter said, “Here’s a glass. Drink it.” And, Moore said, “Do you think I’m stupid?” The reporter replied that he just said, it was safe to drink. Moore got up, called him a jerk and left. It was hilarious. Patrick Moore has always been a climate change denier. He was at an event in Texas last week. Suddenly he admitted, he is no longer a climate change denier. Now he is a climate change embracer: climate change is good for humanity. It is going to extend our growing seasons and the deserts are going to be green. That is where he’s going right now: Look at all the benefits of climate change. (laughs)
MS: Many people in the U.S. also ignore climate change.
PW: Because it cuts into their profits. People are making money out of it or there are people like Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, who says climate change is impossible because it is not in the bible. The U.S. is almost becoming a religious state in many ways. You can’t teach evolution in Kansas anymore; creationism has to be on the curriculum.
This planet is a spaceship and there is a life support system providing oxygen, regulating the climate, providing food and this life support system is being run by a crew of earthlings. We are all passengers, bees, worms, trees and us. We have a great time entertaining ourselves, it’s what we do best. But what we are doing is killing off the crew and there is only so many crew you can kill before the whole thing falls apart.
In the Photo: SSCS ship, Farley Mowat, hunts Japanese whale poaching vessels. Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
MS: Are you a religious person?
PW: No. I believe that we are finite minds living in an infinite universe and the finite mind isn’t capable understanding or comprehending infinity, therefore, there is no answer that we’ll ever receive. All we can ever do is to fight over the answer. It’s like Gertrude Stein once said, “The answer is no answer.” That is the only answer we are ever going to get. What’s the purpose of life? You enjoy it. You experience it. But you don’t worry about it. I certainly don’t believe that we are the center of the universe. I have a biocentric attitude which means that I believe we are part of nature. We are not in control of it. It wasn’t created for us. The planet is four billion years old and we have only been around for a couple of million years in some shape or another. I reject all world religions because they put humans at the center. They are all anthropocentric religions: humans are the chosen species. I actually thought for some time that we need a new religion, a religion that puts us as part of a whole. If we are going to worship anything, we should worship nature. For the most part, I think people turn to religion because they are afraid of dying. But the only people who are afraid of dying are people who aren’t living. If you are living you are not going to be afraid of dying.
SS: Do you suggest to worship nature by the laws of nature?
PW: I wouldn’t say worship but respect nature.
SS: Respect nature by the laws of nature?
PW: Living in accordance to the laws of nature, the law of diversity, the law of interdependence, the law of finite resources and respecting other species. A few years ago I got the Fox Network in the U.S. angry, because I said worms are more important than people. “Worms and bees and trees are more important than people,” I said. They wanted to know why. I said, “because they don’t need us, we need them. We can’t survive without them. They are more important than we are. What we have to do is to humble ourselves to say, at least we are equal to them.” This planet is a spaceship and there is a life support system providing oxygen, regulating the climate, providing food and this life support system is being run by a crew of earthlings. We are all passengers, bees, worms, trees and us. We have a great time entertaining ourselves, it’s what we do best. But what we are doing is killing off the crew and there is only so many crew you can kill before the whole thing falls apart.
SS: Before the ship sinks, so to say.
PW: Well, yeah, and the ship is sinking. I mean, the oceans are dying and people don’t even understand that. It’s a concept that is so alien to most people. Everyday I get comments from people saying there are plenty of fish in the sea and that we are never going to run out. Then you have guys like Jim Inhofe who is in charge of the Congressional Committee on Environment saying global warming isn’t real because God won’t allow it. These are the kind of people who are running the country now. The problem is with the government. Politicians tend to be people who are not there for the right reasons. It’s universal. Wise people don’t run for office because it is such a dirty, dirty profession. Just occasionally you have a guy like Bernie Sanders who comes out and tells it like it is and get’s away with it. Of course Trump tells it like it is, too. Well, the way he sees it. (laughs) But I like Donald Trump. You know why? I want him to get the Republican nomination because he cannot be elected for president. If he is the Republican candidate, we will have a Democrat for president. I’m hoping it’s Bernie Sanders. I hope it’s not Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is another Maggie Thatcher. Trump’s latest thing is that Muslims should have to wear yellow ID patches.
SS: Really? Patches to identify people by their faith?
PW: He has no knowledge of history.
MS: We saw his response to the Paris bombing on CNN.
SS: He said, if the victims would have had guns they maybe could have protected themselves.
PW: Carson said the same thing.
SS: It’s unbelievable.
PW: The guy is a complete idiot. Everybody knows it. He is also delusional. For instance, his casinos went bankrupt but in his mind he sold them. Brilliant, brilliant. A huge success, he probably said to himself. I think that segment of America is basically the stupid society, but it is not the majority.
I guess in a way I would describe myself as a conservative in the actual definition of a conservative: to maintain the status quo of the planet.
In the Photo: Delta by an iceberg, waiting for the Yushin Maru #3. Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
MS: How would you define yourself politically?
PW: I’m not a political person.
MS: Overfishing the oceans is a result of greed; greed is what capitalist societies usually reward and you are against that. Does that imply you’re a communist?
PW: No. I don’t have a political position – left, right or in between. I’m an ecologist. A few years ago, I was a guest on a right wing talk show in America where they asked about my political views. I said, “I’m a conservative. I’m a conservationist, you don’t get more conservative than being a conservationist.” They said that I’m not a conservative. I replied, “Well, you guys are radicals. You guys are destroying the planet. I’m a conservative. You’re just getting the language mixed up. My conservative values are more conservative than your conservative values.” I told them to test me on my conservative values, so they gave me the classic shit, “What is your position on gay people and women in the military?” I go, “Totally opposed to it. I don’t think women or gay people should be in the military.” And they go, “Really? Why?” “Because I don’t think men should be in the military. So why would I want women and gay people in the military?” Then they asked, “What is your position on welfare?” “I’m totally opposed to welfare,” I said. “All these corporate welfare bums like Wall Street and General Motors just take everybody’s money. That’s like corporate communism.” I guess in a way I would describe myself as a conservative in the actual definition of a conservative: to maintain the status quo of the planet. That is a conservative value. But when it comes to right wing or left wing, it never made any sense to me. I have actually run for political office. In Canada I ran for a seat as a member of Parliament twice. I ran for Mayor of Vancouver once, but I did so more as a forum. I actually was afraid at one point I was going to win because I didn’t want to win.
SS: You placed fourth, right?
PW: Yes. I was sitting in a debate with the Mayor and another guy and these guys were not making any sense at all. It was there that I realized that I was the one making sense. I was thinking, “Shit, I could win this thing! I don’t want to be behind that desk for two years.” I was just trying to get a message across. There were 68 people running for Mayor of Vancouver because somebody got in their head: Why don’t we all run? (laughs) I came in forth out of 68. We actually ran a peanut for Mayor once.
In the Photo: Paul Watson at the Sea Shepherd Benefit “Breaking The Ice” held at the Santa Monica Pier on November 13, 2007 in Santa Monica, California. Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
SS: A peanut?
PW: Mr. Peanut from the peanut butter commercial. He was all dressed up, so we ran Mr. Peanut.
SS: With the monocles and everything?
PW: Yeah, yeah. A guy with legs, a peanut body and everything. One time, we did the best thing for Vancouver by running a candidate named Thomas Campbell: a really right wing Mayor of Vancouver was named Thomas Campbell, so we found a guy with the same name, Thomas Arthur Campbell and put him on the ballot. We took all the votes away, because people were thinking, “Oh, Tom Campbell, he’s a right wing, it’s Tom Campbell!” (laughs) It was ’72 when Wavy Gravy ran for president of the United States under the name of Nobody. “Who’s gonna end the war? Nobody. Vote for Nobody!” I like it when you do that with politics, but politics in general is such a dirty business.
MS: We live in a time of minimum political consciousness. Most people are not politically active. But there are very strong political decisions that have to be made. When we look at Poland we see a 40 percent voting turnout. This gives room to right wing parties that are nearly fascists.
SS: It is alarming that people don’t seem to realize the possible consequences.
PW: That’s true. Climate change in combination with overpopulation will lead directly to more right wing repressive governments. Marie Le Pen’s national party is going to benefit from what happened in Paris because people react out of fear. Look at what is happening in America. Everybody’s scared of the Syrian refugees and they have no idea what they’re even talking about when they say, “Oh my God, the Syrians are gonna come over here and kill us all…” The chance of getting killed by a policeman in America is much greater.
In the Video: Paul Watson speaks with TEDxNoosa. “If our oceans die, we die.”
PIRATES GET THINGS DONE
When you look at the history of piracy, people have misunderstood it in many ways because the best thing about pirates is they get things done. They did things. They were activists.
SS: Looking back on all the events, all the operations, all the experiences from your escape, all the risks you took, is there anything you would change?
PW: No and I’ll tell you why. One event turns into another which turns into another event. I don’t think that you can control where this is going. For instance, I wouldn’t be with Yana right now. So I can’t complain about it because it all went very well.
SS: In the end, but it must have been very difficult for you at times.
PW: I don’t believe that you can regret the decisions you’ve made. You have to accept that this is the way it happened and make the best of it. I remember sitting on a beach in Tonga just thinking about the same thing. “Wow, this isn’t so bad,” I thought. “If it wasn’t for getting stopped in Frankfurt, I wouldn’t be sitting on this beach and watching the sea turtles here. It’s just the way it is.” It’s inconvenient, but sometimes you need inconvenience. I turn 65 next week, but I have never thought of retiring. Why would anyone want to retire? That’s like dying. I think, the only people that retire are people who don’t like what they were doing. My mother’s father was an artist. He never retired. He died at 93 because he was robbed and murdered and he was working until the day he died. I feel, that is something I picked up from him.
MS: How did you meet your wife?
Yana Rusinovich: I wrote him and he answered me.
PW: Yana is an opera singer. She sent me a question about music, then we started talking about that. We also talked about animal issues because Yana was involved with a French animal rights group called L214.
Photo Credit: Flickr/John
SS: Why do you have a pirate flag as the Sea Shepherd flag?
PW: People were calling us pirates, so we said, the best way to get around people wanting to call you pirates is saying, “Okay, we’ll be pirates.” Then I designed the Sea Shepherd flag.
SS: Your flag is very complex. What do the different elements stand for?
PW: The shepherd’s staff is protection. The trident is aggressiveness. Our approach is aggressive non-violence. The blackness represents the extinction in the oceans. Humans are responsible, therefore the skull. The dolphin and whale yin-yang means that the harmony is in the ocean. When you look at the history of piracy, people have misunderstood it in many ways because the best thing about pirates is they get things done. They did things. They were activists. When piracy was in the Caribbean, it wasn’t the British navy that shut down piracy. It was too much corruption. Piracy was shut down by Henry Morgan who was a pirate. Look at all the great pirates: John Paul Jones, the founder of the US Navy, was a pirate. Jean Lafitte, Robert Surcouf or Störtebeker. All these guys were pirates. Blackbeard was probably the most interesting pirate because he attacked slave ships and freed slaves. He would give them a choice to join his crew and if they joined, slaves could rise to the level of confidants as high as even captain. There was no discrimination amongst a pirate ship. They were also the first democratic societies since captains on pirate ships were elected.
YR: And there were female pirates, too.
PW: Anne Bonney and Mary Read. They were both arrested and both of them happened to be pregnant, so they couldn’t be hung. There was a death penalty on piracy and Anne Bonney said, “Thank God for it! If it wasn’t for that, everybody would be doing it.” (laughs)
MS: So what do you think is going to happen in the future?
PW: I think that evolution is a constantly progressive thing that is constantly getting better. When it comes to terms of political awareness, we are certainly evolving. There is a good movie out now about the Suffragettes, the women who campaigned for the right to vote. Actually, it is funny that Turkey gave women the right to vote before the United States. In early America these women were persecuted, jailed and beaten trying to campaign for the right to vote. The one man who was most against them having this right was President Woodrow Wilson. When the Suffragettes finally won, it was Wilson who signed the law. Today history knows that Wilson is the man who gave women the right to vote although he was their biggest enemy. So that is what politicians do, they take any credit for the achievement, but they oppose any progress.
SS: Thank you very much, Paul.
MS: Thank you very much, Yana.
You can take down an individual, you can take down an organization, but you can’t destroy a movement.
-Captain Paul Watson