Text excerpted from the book: PROTECTING THE PLANET-Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change (ISBN 978-1-63388-225-6)
Budd Titlow & Mariah Tinger
For the most part, environmental radicalism never quite achieved the level of mayhem and destruction wrought by Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang. Most of the new NGO’s of the Seventies relied on getting the public’s attention through protest rallies—fueled by media involvement—and peaceful civil disobedience such as bulldozer blockades, treetop sit-ins, and Congressional conservation voting record-tracking.
The primary exception to low-key environmental activism was the organization known as Greenpeace. Although professed to be nonviolent by its leaders, Greenpeace often employed in-your-face, smash-mouth techniques—commonly referred to as the direct action approach—that would have made Edward Abbey himself blush.
More than any other NGO—before or since—Greenpeace emphasized using the media to gain attention to their causes. Often described as the most visible environmental organization that ever existed, Greenpeace has always been controversial, even acquiring sea-going vessels for the sole purpose of using them to directly confront and interfere with Russian and Japanese whaling factory ships. They also became directly immersed in a battle to stop the slaughter of harp seal pups in Newfoundland. Who can ever forget the public information spot showing an adorable doe-eyed and white-furred harp seal pup one minute and word that they were being bloodily bludgeoned to death for their pelts the next?
Among their thousands of dramatic protests, Greenpeace activists also infiltrated nuclear test sites, shielded whales from harpoons, and blocked ocean-going barges from dumping radioactive waste. On the downside of the organization’s tactics, the Rainbow Warrior— flagship of the Greenpeace fleet—was sunk in the port of Auckland, New Zealand in 1985 by the French Foreign Intelligence Services. En route to protect a planned nuclear test in Mururoa in French Polynesia, the ship —when it sank—also claimed the life of Fernando Pereira, a freelance Dutch photographer.
Depending on who or what you believe, Greenpeace purportedly first came to the light of day in 1971 with an assemblage of hail and hearty souls in the backroom of a storefront in Vancouver, Canada. Their first mission of note involved chartering an old halibut seiner—The Phyllis Cormack—and plowing through unfriendly seas in the Gulf of Alaska to protest nuclear testing on the tectonically unstable island of Amchitka in Alaska. This led to a face-off in 1971 with a US Coast Guard Cutter, and eventually generated enough public support to force the US to end nuclear testing on Amchitka.
No matter what you may think about Greenpeace or their methods for confronting and stopping highly-damaging environmental activities, the fact remains that they are today one of the world’s largest and most successful NGO’s. Greenpeace now has an international organization with five ships, 2.8 million supporters, 27 national and regional offices, and a presence in 55 countries. Greenpeace’s stated goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity”.
Today, the international chapters of Greenpeace focus their campaigning on such worldwide issues as deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling, genetic engineering, anti-nuclear issues, and Climate Change. To keep their noses as clean as possible, the global organization does not accept funding from governments, corporations, or political parties.
Paul Watson and His Sea Shepherd Society
The exact founding structure of Greenpeace has never been quite clear. To this day, it’s said that you can go into any bar in Vancouver, Canada and sit down next to someone who will tell you they are one of the founders of Greenpeace.
Certainly one of the most noteworthy—and outlandish—characters to ever make this claim is Canadian, Paul Watson. Whether or not he was a Greenpeace founder, Watson was an active participant to the point that he got himself banned from the organization and then went out and formed his own rabble-rousing outfit, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Watson proceeded to command his ship, The Sea Shepherd, sailing around the world and personally attacking the whaling fleets of Norway, Japan, and—most notably—Iceland, where he actually scuttled and sank two boats while they were at anchor in harbor. Somehow, Watson managed to escape serving any actual prison time.
After watching his involvement in the documentary A Fierce Green Fire, it is difficult not to consider Watson a true hero—especially if you love marine mammals. He certainly did not pull any punches when it came to fighting for exactly what he believed—the life of every sperm whale and harp seal. In fact, he repeatedly put his own health and safety in harm’s way to protect these majestic and lovely animals. In the end result—largely due to the disruptive efforts of Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Society—the International Whaling Commission (IWC) enacted a global moratorium on whaling with only Japan refusing to sign the pact. Despite this success, the suitability of Watson’s ways are certainly a matter for conjecture and debate within the Climate Change community.
Author’s bio:For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need.Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.