Letter: Greenpeace and Brent Spar: a propaganda victory that raises more questions

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your headline "Shell's loss is democracy's gain" (21 June) is the exact reverse of the truth. Greenpeace's triumph over Shell and the British government represents the victory of propaganda over rational discussion; of blind prejudice over facts. The disposal of Brent Spar will now follow a less satisfactory course, from an environmental viewpoint, than it would have done if the "dump in deep water" plan had been carried through.

The added costs, likely to run into scores of millions of pounds, will be borne by all of us, not just by Shell, at a time when financial resources are very tight. Greenpeace's triumph will indirectly cause the cancellation of many worthwhile projects in Britain, for lack of the funds which Greenpeace and its gullible supporters are compelling the economy to waste on Brent Spar.

There can be nothing in Brent Spar which cannot already be found in the ocean. Use by Greenpeace of terms like "radioactive" and "toxic heavy metals" are almost meaningless unless quantified. A great many natural rocks are radioactive in some degree, but harmless to people walking over them. All heavy metals occur as ions in sea water - indeed, the ores from which they are smelted originated in most cases from the waters of ancient seas. If, and when, the heavy metals said to be in Brent Spar are leached into sea water, this will merely complete one more cycle of an eternal sequence. Nothing would have changed and nothing and no one would suffer.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ships have been lost in the Atlantic Ocean this century in warfare or natural disaster. They and their cargoes comprise every imaginable substance, poisonous or otherwise. Is there any evidence that this vast "pollution" has done any harm?

The danger to democracy is that an issue like this is too complex to cover by "sound bites" in television news. Clever propaganda wins every time. I am told that more, and worse, pollution flows down the Rhine every day from Germany into Holland and the North Sea than is contained in Brent Spar. But it isn't photogenic, and cleaning it up would cost vast sums to German industry and householders.

So the Germans can ease their consciences by condemning Britain and Shell for an action that could have had no effect on any Germans, while forgetting about the pollution they are inflicting on the Dutch and the southern North Sea. It was clever of Greenpeace to build on this, but there is no gain for democracy.

Yours sincerely,

GEOFF BRUNSTROM

Ambleside, Cumbria

21 June

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