Greenpeace has acquired a reputation for the dramatic use of nonviolent direct action in campaigns to stop atmospheric nuclear testing and to bring an end to high-seas whaling. In recent years, the focus of the organisation has turned to other environmental issues, including high seas bottom trawling, climate change and genetic engineering.
Greenpeace has national and regional offices in 41 countries worldwide, all of which have affiliation with the Amsterdam-based Greenpeace International. The global organisation receives its income through the individual contributions of an estimated 2.8 million financial supporters, as well as from grants from charitable foundations, but does not accept funding from governments or corporations.
Greenpeace's official mission statement describes the organisation and its aims thus:
- Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organisation which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force solutions for a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace's goal is to ensure the ability of the earth to nurture life in all its diversity.
The origins of Greenpeace lie in the formation of the Don't Make A Wave Committee by an assortment of Canadian and American ex-patriate peace activists in Vancouver in 1970. Taking its name from a slogan used during protests against United States nuclear testing in late 1969, the Committee came together with the objective of stopping a second underground nuclear bomb test codnamed "Cannikin" by the United States military beneath the island of Amchitka, Alaska. The committee's founders and early members included:
- Paul Cote
- Jim and Marie Bohlen
- Irving and Dorothy Stowe
- Patrick Moore
- Bill Darnell
- Ben and Dorothy Metcalfe
- Robert Hunter
- Paul Watson
Darnell has received the credit for combining the words ‘green’ and ‘peace’, thereby giving the organisation its future name.
In September 1971, the group chartered the Phyllis Cormack , a fishing vessel skippered by John Cormack . They named it the Greenpeace, and set sail for the island of Amchitka with the intention of disrupting the scheduled second nuclear test. The US Coast Guard vessel Confidence intercepted the Phyllis Cormack and forced her to return to port, but not before the crew of the Confidence delivered a note (behind their Captain's back) declaring "what you are doing is for the good of all mankind".
Upon their return to Alaska, the crew learned that protests had taken place in all major Canadian cities, and that the United States had postponed the second underground test until November. Although attempts to sail into the test zone using a second chartered vessel also failed, no further nuclear tests took place at Amchitka.
Moruroa Atoll and the Vega
When the newly-formed Foundation put out a call to sympathetic skippers to help them protest against the French Government's atmospheric nuclear tests at the Pacific atoll of Moruroa, a response came from David McTaggart, a Canadian expatriate and former entrepreneur based in New Zealand. McTaggart, a champion badminton player in his youth, had sold his business interests and relocated to the South Pacific following a gas explosion which seriously wounded an employee at one of his ski-lodges.
Outraged that any government could exclude him from any part of his beloved Pacific, McTaggart offered his yacht, the Vega, to the cause, and set about assembling a crew.
In 1973, McTaggart sailed the Vega into the exclusion zone around Moruroa, only to have his vessel rammed by the French Navy. When he repeated the protest the following year, French sailors boarded the Vega and brutally beat McTaggart. Later, the Navy released to the media staged photographs of McTaggart dining with senior navy officers, which suggested a degree of civility between the opposing parties. A different picture emerged when photographs of McTaggart's beating, smuggled off the yacht by crew member Anne-Marie Horne , also appeared in the media.
The campaign against French nuclear testing achieved a victory when the French government announced a halt to atmospheric testing, only to begin testing underground. Greenpeace would continue to campaign against testing in the Pacific until the French ceased their testing program in 1995.
Saving the Whales
When Paul Spong, a New Zealand neuroscientist hired by the Vancouver Aquarium to study the behaviour of whales in captivity, contacted Robert Hunter, the 'Save the Whales' campaign which resulted took place initially under the banner of Project Ahab , due to Irving Stowe's resistance to broadening Greenpeace's scope beyond opposition to nuclear weapons.
Stowe's death in 1974 effectively ended this deadlock, and a re-chartered Phyllis Cormack steamed from Vancouver to meet the Soviet whaling fleet off the Californian coast in the spring of 1975. Thanks to the guidance of a primitive radio direction-finder and some fortuitous navigation by musician Mel Gregory , who steered towards the moon rather than following a compass, the Cormack encountered the whaling fleet on June 26.
The crew used fast Zodiac inflatable s to position themselves between the harpoon of the catcher ship ‘’Vlastny’’ and a fleeing whale. Television broadcasts around the world showed film footage of the ‘’Vlastny’’ firing a harpoon over the heads of Greenpeace activists, highlighting the plight of the whales to the world's public in the closing days of the International Whaling Commission's 1976 conference in London.
By the late 1970s, spurred by the global reach of what Robert Hunter called "mind bombs ", in which images of confrontation on the high seas converted diffuse and complex issues into considerably more media-friendly David versus Goliath-style narratives, more than 20 groups across North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia had adopted the name "Greenpeace".
In 1979, however, the original Vancouver-based Greenpeace Foundation had encountered financial difficulties, and disputes between offices over fundraising and organisational direction split the global movement. David McTaggart lobbied the Canadian Greenpeace Foundation to accept a new structure which would bring the scattered Greenpeace offices under the auspices of a single global organisation, and on October 14, 1979, Greenpeace International came into existence.
Under the new structure, the local offices would contribute a percentage of their income to the international organisation, which would take responsibility for setting the overall direction of the movement. Greenpeace's transformation from a loose international network — united by style more than by focus — to a global organisation able to apply the full force of its resources to a small number of environmental issues deemed of global significance, owed much to McTaggart's personal vision.
McTaggart summed up his approach in a 1994 memo: "No campaign should be begun without clear goals; no campaign should be begun unless there is a possibility that it can be won; no campaign should be begun unless you intend to finish it off". MacTaggart's own assessment of what could and couldn't be won, and how, frequently caused controversy.
In re-shaping Greenpeace as a centrally coordinated, hierarchical organisation, McTaggart went against the anti-authoritarian ethos that prevailed in other environmental organisations that came of age in the 1970s. While this pragmatic structure granted Greenpeace the persistence and narrow focus necessary to match forces with government and industry, it would lead to the recurrent criticism that Greenpeace had adopted the same methods of governance as its chief foes — the multinational corporations.
The Rainbow Warrior
In 1978, Greenpeace launched the Rainbow Warrior, a 40-metre, former fishing trawler named for the Cree legend that inspired early activist Robert Hunter on the first voyage to Amchitka. Greenpeace purchased the Rainbow Warrior (originally launched as the Sir William Hardy in 1955) at a cost of £40,000, and volunteers restored and refitted her over a period of four months.
First deployed to disrupt the hunt of the Icelandic whaling fleet, the Rainbow Warrior would quickly become a mainstay of Greenpeace campaigns. Between 1978 to 1985, crew members also engaged in non-violent direct action against the ocean-dumping of toxic and radioactive waste, the Grey Seal hunt in the Orkneys and nuclear testing in the Pacific.
The Warrior had sailed from the North Pacific, where it assisted the evacuation of the inhabitants of Rongelap in the Marshall Islands, who continued to suffer health effects attributed to the fallout from American nuclear testing during the 1950s and 1960s. Greenpeace plans envisaged the ship leading a flotilla of vessels protesting against imminent nuclear tests at Moruroa.
On the evening of July 10, frogmen attached two bombs to the hull of the ship. The first bomb detonated at 11:38, closely followed by the second explosion, sinking the ship and killing photographer Fernando Pereira.
Acting on tip-offs from a shocked public, the New Zealand police quickly traced the bombing to Major Alain Mafart and Captain Dominique Prieur , members of the French armed forces posing as a Swiss honeymoon couple. The police arrested Mafart and Prieur, but attempts on the part of New Zealand authorities to secure the extradition of their suspected accomplices from Australia, and later from France, failed.
The French Government initially denied any involvement in the bombing, but mounting pressure from the French and international media led to the admission, on September 22, that the French secret service had ordered the bombing. Investigations subsequent to the bombing also revealed that Christine Cabon , a French secret service agent, had infiltrated the Auckland office of Greenpeace New Zealand, posing as a volunteer in order to gather information on the Moruroa campaign and the Rainbow Warrior’s movements.
In 1987 the French Government agreed to pay Greenpeace compensation of NZ$13 million and formally apologised for the bombing. The original Rainbow Warrior, too damaged to repair, was cleaned and scuttled in Matauri Bay , where it serves as an artificial reef and popular dive destination.
In 1989 Greenpeace commissioned a replacement vessel, also named the Rainbow Warrior, which remains in service today as the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet.
On July 18, 2003, the US Government's Justice Department charged Greenpeace under an obscure 1872 law against "sailormongering" for a 2002 protest against the US importation of over $10 million worth of Brazilian mahogany after the Brazilian government had placed a moratorium on mahogany exports.
The original action occurred on April 12, 2002. Greenpeace boarded the ship carrying the mahogany, the APL Jade , to hang up a banner reading "President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging".
The Department rearraigned Greenpeace on a revised indictment at the federal courthouse in Miami on November 14, 2003. The original indictment included the claim that Greenpeace had inaccurately claimed the presence of contraband mahogany on the boarded ship. The Justice Department revised its indictment of Greenpeace, deleting the claim of Greenpeace's inaccurate account of the illegal cargo.
On May 16, 2004, Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled in favour of Greenpeace and found that "the indictment is a rare – and maybe unprecedented – prosecution of an advocacy group" for free speech-related conduct.
The organization currently actively addresses many environmental issues, with primary focus on efforts to stop global warming and to preserve the biodiversity of the world's oceans and ancient forests. In addition to the more conventional environmental organization methods, such as lobbying politicians and attendance at international conferences, Greenpeace has a stated methodology of engaging in nonviolent direct action.
Greenpeace uses direct action to attract attention to particular environmental causes, whether by placing themselves between the whaler's harpoon and their prey, or by invading nuclear facilities dressed as barrels of radioactive waste.
Some of Greenpeace's most notable successes include the ending of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, a permanent (?) moratorium on international commercial whaling, and the declaration by treaty of Antarctica as a global park, forbidding possession by individual nations or commercial interests. To back up this latter point, World Park Base was established in Antarctica, and ran for five years from 1987 thru 1992.
Public Interest Watch says that coordination of Greenpeace's controversial actions in the USA takes place at the secret action warehouse in suburban Washington, D.C. Similar arrangements occur in other national offices.
For smaller actions, and continuous local promotion and activism, Greenpeace has networks of active supporters that coordinate their efforts through national offices. The United Kingdom has some 6,000 Greenpeace activists.
Despite its founding in North America, Greenpeace achieved much more success in Europe, where it has more members and gets most of its money. The vast majority of Greenpeace's donations come from private individual members. It has received donations from some prominent figures, however, such as Ted Turner. Along with other members of the activism industry, in the USA it also uses the services of the Fund for Public Interest Research . Greenpeace spends approximately $360M USD per year.
In order to ensure its independence and impartiality, Greenpeace does not accept money from corporations or from governments: it screens donations to ensure compliance.
During its history, Greenpeace has weathered criticism from government and industry, and on occasion, from other environmental groups. While critics have often focused on undermining the scientific or factual basis of particular campaigns, the organisation's system of governance and its use of nonviolent direct action have also been sources of controversy.
Two of Greenpeace's most vocal critics are Icelandic filmmaker Magnus Gudmundsson , director of the pro-whaling documentary Survival in the High North, and former Greenpeace International Director Patrick Moore. Gudmundsson's criticisms have focused largely on the social impacts of anti-whaling and anti-sealing campaigns, while Moore's main criticisms have been levelled at the campaign to protect the forests of British Columbia.
Supporters of Greenpeace counter that, like many of the organisation's most outspoken critics, Gudmunsson and Moore receive considerable funding from the very industries that have been subject to Greenpeace campaigns.
Criticism has also come from those who feel the organization is too mainstream. Paul Watson, leader of Sea Shepherd, once called Greenpeace "The Avon ladies of the environmental movement," on account of their door-to-door fundraising.
- www.greenpeace.org Official website
- Waves of Compassion: The Founding of Greenpeace by Rex Weyler
- Greenpeace Founders
- Greenpeace: Always Bearing Witness CBC archives
- Greenpeace: Storm-Tossed on the High Seas by Fred Pearce
- Greenpeace 30th Anniversary
- www.rexweyler.com Rex Weyler, Greenpeace co-founder Official website
- Greenpeace Finances