Greenpeace is an international environmental NGO with offices in over 40 countries and an international coordinating body in Amsterdam. Greenpeace states its goal is to ‘ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity’ and focuses on worldwide issues such as global warming, deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling and anti-nuclear issues. They use direct action, lobbying and research to achieve their goals. The organisation does not accept funding from governments, corporations or political parties, relying on more than 5 million supporters.
One of the reasons Greenpeace is the most visible environmental group in the world is because of their direct actions. They have raised environmental issues to public knowledge, influenced both the private and the public sector. They have also received a lot of criticism for their motives and methods. A lot of their actions have sparked legal actions against their activists.
Greenpeace claims it had no single founder and many people were responsible for the birth of the organisation which would go on to revolutionise the field of environmental activism. Bob Hunter, David McTaggart, Dorothy Stowe and Irving Stowe were, however, the four people who clearly stood out.
Canadian journalist Bob Hunter gave the organisation its free-spirited ethos which lasts even today. David McTaggart was the one who gave the organisation its structure. Dorothy and Irving Stowe’s tolerance ensured that the group stuck together.
The Don’t Make A Wave Committee
In 1970, the Don’t Make A Wave Committee was established. Its sole objective was to stop a second nuclear weapons test by the US at Amchitka Island in southwest Alaska.
The committee’s founders were Dorothy and Irving Stowe, Marie and Jim Bohlen, Ben and Dorothy Metcalfe, and Bob Hunter. Canadian ecologist Bill Darnell came up the group’s name, Greenpeace, keeping in mind their concern for the planet and opposition to nuclear arms.
The group organised a boat, the Phyllis Cormack, and set sail to Amchitka. Even though the trip was a complete disaster the Amchitka voyage sparked a flurry of public interest. The media went wild over the small group of activists who had sailed off in the face of great difficulty.
What They Do
On its official website, Greenpeace defines its mission as the following: “Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace by catalysing an energy revolution to address the number one threat facing our planet: climate change”. It claims to be “defending our oceans by challenging wasteful and destructive fishing, and creating a global network of marine reserves; protecting the world’s remaining ancient forests...; working for disarmament and peace by reducing dependence on finite resources and calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons; creating a toxin free future with safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals in today’s products and manufacturing; campaigning for sustainable agriculture by encouraging socially and ecologically responsible farming practices.
What the Group Achieved
In 1985, French secret service agents planted two bombs and sank a Greenpeace ship called the Rainbow Warrior which was moored in Auckland ready to take on French nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean. A Greenpeace photographer, Fernando Pereira, drowned.
Greenpeace was one of the first organisations to tackle climate change in 1993. In the early 1990s, Greenpeace developed a CFC-free refrigerator technology called Greenfreeze which was highly successful and played a crucial role in preventing the depletion of the ozone layer. In 2007, one third of the world’s total production of refrigerators was based on Greenfreeze technology.
In October 2007, six Greenpeace protesters were arrested for breaking in to the Kingsnorth power station in England, painting the name Gordon on the chimney, and causing damage worth an estimated £30,000. During the trial that followed, the protesters claimed that they had managed to prevent property damage elsewhere around the world through this act of theirs. The six activists were acquitted. It was the first time ever that damaging property to prevent global warming was accepted as lawful defence in a court.
Changes in India
Greenpeace India has been working on various issues related to the environment since 2001. Their work in India mainly focuses on climate change, sustainable agriculture, preserving the oceans and preventing nuclear catastrophe. Their recent campaigns include preventing the dilution of the Nuclear Liability Act, the Junglistan campaign which aims to prevent the destruction of forests in India and asking telecom giant Airtel to go green.
Criticism of their Actions
The way Greenpeace operates has been criticised the world over. Many claim that all Greenpeace does is to grab eyeballs and then leave the scene with little follow up action. Much criticism has been directed to the methods they use — considered too violent and direct. There are also a few who doubt the power of the organisation’s online campaigns. Another, more worrying criticism is that Greenpeace tends to overlook issues of livelihood of those people directly or indirectly affected by its actions. Still it has managed to effect some change — food companies have reduced the usage of forest-destroying palm oil. The tech industry is slowly phasing out toxic chemicals. The dumping of radioactive waste in the sea is on the decline. Commercial whaling is seeing its end. Greenpeace has been the force behind all these changes.