A bigger, more influential Greenpeace begins its third decade
A bigger, more influential Greenpeace begins its third decade
Trash blows along the sidewalk in front of the 85-yearold Washington office building that is the headquarters of Greenpeace USA. Inside the building, down the block from several derelict houses used by drug dealers, Greenpeace’s staff of 140 work in a world of poster-covered walls and threadbare carpets. Equally unpretentious is the office of executive director Peter Bahouth. Indeed, although he runs an organization with 1.8 million members and an annual budget of $33.6 million, he is proudest of his frontline service in the environmental wars. Pinned to his door is a photograph that shows him lying facedown and handcuffed after police arrested him during a 1990 protest at a New Jersey chemical plant owned by American Cyanamid Ltd. “It is important that people know that we are willing to take risks,” he said.
Opposing authority in the line of duty remains a badge of honor for Greenpeace campaigners. Indeed, 20 years after the organization started operations in Vancouver, Greenpeace is still making news around the world with the risky stunts that are its trademark. During its short history, the organization has won a series of important environmental victories. Moreover, the past two decades have brought dramatic change to Greenpeace, which now reigns as the world’s best-known and most influential environmental lobby group. It is a huge international organization with high-priced lawyers and lobbyists to bring pressure to bear on governments and corporations, and astute media experts to find inventive ways to spread its message. And each year, Greenpeace mails millions of appeals for money to existing and prospective members.
Inaccurate: Still, corporate critics contend that Greenpeace’s campaigns are inaccurate and aim simply at being controversial, while some environmentalists say that the organization has lost its edge. But Greenpeace campaigners appear unfazed by their critics. They say that instead of being content to call attention to environmental problems, Greenpeace is now directing more of its efforts to proposing solutions and helping them become reality. Said Michael Manolson, executive director of Toronto-based Greenpeace Canada: “We have grown up. Our size has given us greater political influence and greater legitimacy.” As evidence of the organization’s changing role, Greenpeace officials held regular meetings with Ottawa bureaucrats as federal officials drafted the new legislation on pulp-and-paper-
mill emissions that was announced last week. Despite that involvement, Greenpeace Canada criticized the proposed legislation for not going far enough.
Greenpeace’s road to maturity has been startling. The organization now has offices in 27 countries, more than five million members worldwide and an annual budget of $130 million. And its members currently run 37 different campaigns around the world. In Canada, membership has skyrocketed to 350,000, from 30,000 in 1987. Its Canadian budget, derived
solely from individual contributions, is projected to reach $10 million in 1991, up from $1.5 million four years ago. In the year ahead, Greenpeace Canada officials say that the organization will campaign for improved forestry practices and cleaner pulp-and-paper-mill emissions by attempting to arouse public opinion in Europe, which is a major market for Canadian forest products.
The organization is a far cry from the motley crew of 12 men who set out on Sept. 15,1971, in an antiquated halibut seiner called the Phyllis Cormack to try to stop a U.S. underground
nuclear bomb test on Alaska’s Amchitka Island. The protest voyage’s organizers were James Bohlen, Irving Stowe and Paul Cote, three Vancouver environmentalists who had quit the San Francisco-based Sierra Club environmental group because it refused to take a stand against nuclear weapons tests. Before leaving Vancouver on their maiden voyage, they emblazoned the bridge of the boat with the word “Greenpeace,” which symbolically bound together their concern for the planet and their opposition to nuclear arms.
Because of bad weather, the Phyllis Cormack never reached the testing site. But when it returned to port six weeks later, its crew had generated publicity that helped to persuade the U.S. government to halt future tests. One year later, the fledgling group’s name became known across the world when a Vancouver-born yachtsman and developerturned-environmentalist named David McTaggart skippered a Greenpeace ship to the site of a French nuclear test in the South Pacific. There, the Greenpeace vessel was rammed by a French warship, but failed to stop the test.
In the early 1970s, with the group’s headquarters still in Vancouver, Greenpeace launched campaigns to save the whales and to stop the killing of Newfoundland harp seal pups. Still, by 1977, the entire opera| tion seemed on the verge of ^ collapse because of shaky fi§ nances and internal bickering ^ as dozens of unconnected groups in North America began using the Greenpeace name. A compromise emerged when the Canadian, American and European offices agreed to form an umbrella body, Greenpeace International, to be based in Amsterdam.
And by then, Greenpeace’s daredevil campaigns had solidly captured public imagination around the world. Since first setting sail in 1971, Greenpeace members have climbed nuclear smokestacks, sprayed Newfoundland harp seals with paint, hung banners from bridges, plugged industrial sewage pipes and sailed inflatable boats into nuclear test sites. Although they avoid violence, Greenpeace
campaigners have been arrested, beaten and imprisoned. In 1985, a Greenpeace photographer was killed in Auckland after French government agents sank its flagship, Rainbow Warrior, which had been campaigning against nuclear testing. Police arrested two French agents, and in 1986 the French government agreed to pay New Zealand $8.5 million in compensation.
Risky: Over the years, Greenpeace has also found less risky ways to gain attention. Often, they turned to so-called eco-dramas—symbolic, dramatized events designed to galvanize public opinion against their targets. Greenpeace campaigners have staged mock seal hunts outside meetings of the European Community. They have delivered dead fish to annual meetings of corporations that they say are polluting lakes and rivers, and they have dressed up as emperor penguins to protest against the building of an airstrip in Antarctica. Greenpeace’s ability to focus public attention on particular issues has impressed both friends and foes. Janine Ferretti, executive director of Toronto-based Pollution Probe Canada, says that “Greenpeace’s approach has changed the environmental movement forever” by raising environmental issues to the forefront around the world. And their publicity-generating techniques have won grudging praise from the corporations that are Greenpeace’s normal protagonists. Said Charles Ferguson, director of environmental affairs for Toronto-based mining giant Inco Ltd.: “They are very focused. They do what they have to do to make the things they want happen.”
Greenpeace officials, for their part, claim many decisive victories in the past two decades, including moratoriums on commercial whaling and the dumping of radioactive waste.
On Nov. 26, years of campaigning finally paid off when Japan agreed to phase out the use of drift nets in deepsea fishing. On Oct. 4, the organization claimed another victory when 24 nations signed an accord in Madrid banning all mining in Antarctica for at least 50 years.
Greenpeace Canada’s biggest victory came in 1983 when the European Community banned all imports of seal fur. Still, Greenpeace’s hard-fought international campaign against sealing—which virtually destroyed the world market for seal fur—was attacked by some critics because of the jobs lost by Newfoundland sealers. Indeed, Greenpeace members say that the campaign caused a noticeable lag in the group’s Canadian membership and fund-raising drives during the early 1980s. But Greenpeace officials reject any blame for hardships in Newfoundland outports as a result of the campaign. Declared John Bennett, a Greenpeace Canada campaigner: “We blame the federal government for not finding alternatives for these people besides sealing.”
Still, Greenpeace and its methods come in for criticism—both inside and outside the environmental movement. Businessmen complain that Greenpeace is more interested in making the evening news with its stunts than in accurately portraying environmental questions. “They are zealots,” says Adam Zimmerman, chairman of Toronto-based Noranda Forest Inc. “Society is being forced to defend practices which shouldn’t require defence and to spend time fixing non-problems.” As a prime example, Zimmerman cites his own industry, which is under heavy fire from Greenpeace for its forestry practices and for pollution from pulp-and-paper mills.
More stinging, however, has been censure by a small group of environmentalists—in par-
ticular, Paul Watson, a member of the original Greenpeace committee in Vancouver who left in 1977 to form the Sea Shepherd’s Society, which is based in Los Angeles. Watson charges that Greenpeace has betrayed its original mandate by focusing more on raising funds and less on the confrontations that earned it its global reputation.
Greenpeace’s current leaders, however, say that they remain true to their principles. Their campaigners, they contend, remain as committed as the original pioneers were to taking direct action to emphasize environmental problems. As well, Sawyer says that Greenpeace and its objectives have matured and become more well rounded during the past 20 years. “It is no longer enough simply to draw people’s attention to problems,” he said. “We have to go after specific targets, offer alternatives and follow them through to a conclusion.”
As it enters its third decade, Greenpeace faces challenges that are broader and more complex than any of their past campaigns. Internationally, the main focus will be on protection of the Earth’s atmosphere by reducing global warming and on efforts to halt the depletion of the Earth’s ozone. Greenpeace organizers say that they will also continue their campaigns to halt whaling and stop toxic chemicals from being dumped into the oceans, as well as efforts aimed at increasing energy conservation and speeding up nuclear disarmament. Said Sawyer: “We are in a war for global survival—a war we are losing.” And Greenpeace’s environmental foot soldiers are clearly determined to fight on, no matter how daunting the odds.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.