THIS week my wife gave birth to our second child. It was a particularly painful and traumatic birth, beginning in the morning with an attempted induction and finishing towards midnight with a caesarean delivery.
I spent a great deal of the day standing or sitting next to a metal pole near my poor wife's head. From the pole hung the plastic bags used to send drugs, blood and other fluids into a patient by way of a drip connected to the arm.
The drip is one of the most frequently used and one of the most beneficial inventions of medical science. Throughout the day and the night these drips sent various life-giving substances into my wife's body.
They were also, according to Greenpeace, sending a cocktail of toxic poisons through her veins.
By coincidence, in recent weeks I've been looking at Greenpeace's attempts to shut down the world chlorine industry. Chlorine is the world's most widely used industrial chemical, and some 35 percent of it goes to the manufacture of a plastic that has become known colloquially as PVC.
In recent years, Greenpeace has attacked the use of PVC in children's soft toys and teething rings, forcing many companies and stores to stop making or stocking them.
Last week the European Union announced that it would be seeking an "emergency ban" on such products because of the danger they posed to children.
Greenpeace also opposes the use of PVC building products, mainly pipes and electric cable cladding.
Now Greenpeace has turned its attention to the use of PVC in medical products, mainly intravenous bags as described above, tubing, syringes and catheters.
According to spokespeople for the organisation, a chemical named phthalate leaches from the PVC plastic into the liquids which come into contact with it, thereby entering the patient's body.
If Greenpeace is to be believed, my wife — and my daughter — are now contaminated by "toxic chemicals" which might one day cause cancer and genetic damage and harm their hearts, livers, lungs, reproductive tracts and kidneys.
You can imagine the trauma I went through, having to decide whether the short-term advantages of these drips were worth the long-term risk of turning my loved ones into toxic time bombs.
That, at least, is what would have happened had I believed Greenpeace. But in fact I didn't—in fact, I believe that Greenpeace is a dishonest and contemptible organisation that has a history of using science irresponsibly in order to terrify the public so that it will donate money to Greenpeace.
While almost any substance on earth could conceivably be harmful in some situation, Greenpeace cannot point to one person anywhere in the world who has been harmed by the use of plastic intravenous bags, even though they have been in use widely for about 40 years.
Among those who have damned Greenpeace on this issue are: Dr C. Everett Koop, former US surgeon-general, who chaired a committee set up by the government to investigate Greenpeace's claims, which he called a "phoney" health scare; the head of the European Commission's science committee; and CSIRO's Dr Russell Smith. As CSIRO was commissioned by the Australian Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association to research the issue, Greenpeace says the report cannot be trusted; industries are not altruistic, they have their own agendas.
Fair enough. But just what is Greenpeace's agenda?
Greenpeace is not just a cause. It is also a multinational organisation. Like all organisations, its primary function is to keep itself going. Therefore its many employees need to attract subscriptions and donations to the sum of about $150 million a year to keep themselves in jobs. It attracts this money by publicising what it claims are environmental dangers.
But such dangers, particularly those the public is likely to respond to, are getting harder to find. All the cuddly mammals — the dolphins and the seal pups— have been saved. Most Western governments and industries are nowadays environmentally responsible.
So Greenpeace is desperate and its causes are increasingly disreputable.
These days it specialises in greenmail: it provides its media-friendly approval for a company or organisation in return for action by that company or organisation implying that one of Greenpeace's shonky causes has weight.
When Sydney's Olympics Games bid promised to minimise the use of PVC, this suggested to many people that PVC must be bad.
When Nike promised Greenpeace none of its shoes would have PVC in future, this suggested the same thing. It also made Nike look good, at a time when its reputation was tarnished because of a Third World child-labour scandal. (It was also a con: there is no PVC in Nike shoes, except for the labels.)
Once upon a time Greenpeace wanted to save the world. Now it just wants to save itself, no matter what distress this might cause the rest of us.
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