Greenpeace and the rise of the eco-warriors


1st Jan 2015 Life

Greenpeace and the rise of the eco-warriors

For the world's governments, one obvious way to tackle the crisis was to encourage alternative energies. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter took a lead when he promoted a program for producing synthetic fuel from shale. At the popular level, people responded by turning in increasing numbers to the various environmentalist movements, notably Greenpeace.

The history of Greenpeace goes back to 1969, when a U.S. atomic bomb test on Amchitka Island off Alaska prompted a huge protest in the neighboring Canadian province of British Columbia.

Not only was Amchitka a haven for wildlife, it was also located in a geologically unstable zone, near a fault line in the Earth's crust; the test could have precipitated an earthquake. On the day it was due to take place thousands of protesters massed at a crossing on the U.S.-Canadian border, holding up banners declaring:

“Don't make a wave. It's your fault if our fault goes.”

The journalist Robert Hunter, an enthusiastic supporter, described the protest in the Vancouver Sun:

“The Monday noon demonstration against the Amchitka Island A-bomb test has begun … Politicians, take note. There is a power out there in suburbia, so far harnessed only to charity drives, campaigns and PTAs which, if ever properly brought to bear on the great problems of the day, will have an impact so great the result of its being detonated (like the Amchitka A-bomb test) cannot be predicted.”


Wave bye-bye to "Don't Make a Wave"

The success of the event encouraged the organizers to further their efforts. Three men —Jim Bohen, a retired weapons engineer; Irving Stowe, a Yale-educated lawyer from New England; and Paul Cote, a law student from Columbia University—formed a “Don't Make A Wave Committee;” this name they soon changed to the snappier “Greenpeace.”

Their first objective was to stop another atomic test on Amchitka, scheduled for 1971. They gathered the support for a further round of protests, and chartered a boat that they planned to sail into the test zone. The boat was turned back by the U.S. Coast Guard and the test went ahead on November 6, 1971. But the protests were so successful that President Nixon canceled any future Amchitka tests and the island became a bird sanctuary.



Risking it all

Then, in 1972, a UN Conference on the Human Environment was organized. Greenpeace, alongside Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), established in 1958, was able to capitalize on the media attention surrounding the event.

The name Greenpeace became known internationally, a rallying support for the aims of the UN conference. CND remained at the forefront of the specifically anti-nuclear crusade, while Greenpeace had a wider scope, including issues such as protecting habitats, limiting hunting and preventing pollutants from poisoning the Earth. To ram home its point and capture headlines, it chose direct action. Greenpeace activists risked injury or even death in order to prevent fishing fleets from killing whales, and by the mid 1970s they were trying to stop the slaughter of New-foundland seal pups, massacred with cudgels for their white fur.


Taking on giants

By the mid 1990s, they were taking on the might of the oil giant Shell, which was planning to dispose of a disused North Sea oil platform, the Brent Spar, in the deep waters of the North Atlantic.

Greenpeace protested that the platform contained toxic material and posed a serious threat of pollution. Activists occupied it and orchestrated a campaign across Europe against the planned dumping. In June 1995, Shell backed down and towed the rig instead to a fjord in Norway. Now, many experts, including those with strong environmentalist credentials, believe that the Brent Spar might well have caused less pollution dumped in the North Atlantic than it is creating in its fjord, where no one has yet worked out a satisfactory way of disposing of it.



Hipsters and Greenpeace

By the 1980s and 90s environmentalism was “hip.” Wearing CND logos (now popularly known as “peace signs”) on T-shirts had been a fashion statement, as well as a protest, since the 1960s.

Now, pop musicians such as Britain's Sting and the Australian group Midnight Oil embraced the environmental message. Other groups, such as The Jam, further popularised icons of the movement, including the CND symbol.

All images courtesy of Greenpeace

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