If it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, it’s downright dumb to mess with Greenpeace

Allan Fotheringham February 21 1977

If it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, it’s downright dumb to mess with Greenpeace

Allan Fotheringham February 21 1977

If it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, it’s downright dumb to mess with Greenpeace

Allan Fotheringham

One feels sorry for Roméo LeBlanc, a morose, pensive beagle of a man whose natural intellectual bent once led him to his happiest role: CBC correspondent in Washington. With that unerring eye for the inappropriate that so marks government in its habit of finding square holes for round pegs, LeBlanc is now federal Minister of Fisheries. One feels sorry for the shambling New Brunswick Liberal, a chap whose face is continually encompassed in folds of concern, because he is about to be subjected to the piranha-like peckings of Greenpeace, the scruffy band of ecofreaks who take on nations—and usually win.

In early March we return to that beloved scene from a Walt Disney nightmare, the seal pups of Labrador having their cute little dark eyes bashed in by the blood-encrusted Newfoundland and Norwegian fishermen. The drama will be played out in front-page headlines and on The National in living gore, but what makes it so interesting is that the under-financed, undernourished and underestimated environmentalists of Greenpeace have succeeded in turning the most unlikely and uncomfortable site in the world—the ice floes of Labrador—into a media event. If the promise is fulfilled, there will be more reporters than seals.

Thanks to the publicity promoted last winter by Greenpeace volunteers who threw themselves over the seals’ cuddly little bodies, we will now have an international patron saint of media events. He is Franz Weber, a wealthy Swiss conservationist—a former journalist—who says he will fly some 500 world reporters to Labrador to witness the slaughter of 170,000 seals. Weber, a toymaker who has raised one million dollars for the cause already by the sale of toy seal pups, is famed for saving valleys in Switzerland and France from developers and establishing a wildlife park in Africa. He is booking motels in St. Anthony, Nfld., for his invasion of scribes and is moving in on Blanc SabIon, just off the Quebec-Labrador border. The New York Times is coming. The Washington Post will bring its own helicopter.

Once LeBlanc has been through the publicity meat grinder, he will respect Greenpeace more and sympathize with its other victims. There is a growing list. In 1971, there was the dramatic attempt of Greenpeace originals to sail into the blast zone of the American nuclear test on the Aleutian island of Amchitka, the publicized try for martyrdom foiled only by their wheezing fishboat that more resembled The African Queen. Today? Am-

chitka has been turned into a bird sanctuary and the United States no longer holds tests outside its continental territory.

In 1972-73, there were the insane Greenpeace voyages into the French nuclear test zones at Mururoa Atoll in the South Paci-

fic by David McTaggart. his 38-foot yacht pursued and finally rammed by the French navy. McTaggart. a reformed playboy and former world-ranked Canadian badminton player, was assaulted by French seamen. may yet lose the sight of one eye and has demonstrated the disgusting squeamishness of the Mitchell Sharp-Trudeau regime by pursuing his case for years through French courts. Ottawa, shamefacedly, is now offering to pay the costs of the case it once sneered at. The French, harassed by the bad publicity, have now given up atmospheric tests. Greenpeace claims some credit for the fact that nuclear gamblers France and the United States— let alone Russia and China—have been forced onto their own turf. If they do any testing, they must befoul their own nest.

There has been, the last two years, the pursuit of the Russian whaling fleet across the Pacific by the Greenpeace kamikazes, who have graduated from their weirdobeardo phase to a sly collection of marine scientists, ecologists, fisheries experts and honed media experts. Well-trained Greenpeacers—by now in a swift 150-foot converted minesweeper that could keep up with the Russian motherships—zoomed in front of Soviet harpoons in outboard-powered rubber rafts in well-publicized forays to save the depleted world whale population. Thanks to Greenpeace pressure, California, Oregon, Washington and BC now have moratoriums on the marine zoo

fad of snaring killer whales as tame pets to dance for their supper.

The Greenpeace Foundation shares one quality with Pierre Trudeau. It is more renowned and respected internationally than at home. Paris Match knows about the movement. So does Der Stern, the Sunday New York Times Magazine, The Observer of London. Its pursuit of Russian whales was the lead article in Playboy and is being made into a movie by the same outfit that brought you Godfather II, Serpico and Earthquake. The Vancouverbased movement now has 28 branches sprinkling the globe, including San Francisco, Washington, Nashville, Michigan, 250 new members in Honolulu and a Greenpeace Pacific in Melbourne. An anonymous benefactor has just donated a full-time office and secretary in Montreal. A LIP grant has supplied a five-man office in Toronto. Scruffy little Greenpeace teeters on the brink of becoming a trendy international movement.

The president of all this is 34-year-old Bob Hunter, a Winnipeg product who wrote one of this country’s most promising first novels in Erebus, displaying a potential that McClelland and Stewart would still love to get back into its lists. Instead, he initiated the first counter-culture column of any major newspaper in the land with The Vancouver Sun before opting for the life of an ecological Johnny Appleseed.

Hunter, who no longer dresses like a refugee from the Salvation Army thr'.t shop and who can be found in New York negotiating a movie deal or San Francisco (where the whale cause is the new radical chic item), has a network that now extends to governments. If the United States— which on March 1 follows Canada’s lead by extending its domain 200 miles out to sea—can enforce the limit around Hawaii, Wake and Midway, it will greatly inhibit the movement of Russian and Japanese whaling fleets prior to the June meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Australia and the whale quota debate. There is also the knowledge that a U.S. delegate named Jimmy Carter was the one who moved the 10-year whale kill moratorium at the Stockholm environment conference.

The next Greenpeace cause? A grouping of 14 organizations to put a blockade on the first supertanker bringing Alaska oil through BC’S island-dotted coastline. Greenpeace is nibbling as the Canadian conscience on our two coasts, while an insensitive government desperately tries to catch up with the mood.