Vive Le Canada

Greenpeace at War
Date: Thursday, October 13 2005

13 October 2005

Greenpeace at war

Once a byword for the power of the people, the definitive pressure group is now just another bloated corporation, argues John Castel. The former 'Rainbow Warrior' captain reveals what went wrong

Published 12 October 2005

Where did it all go wrong with Greenpeace? For, make no mistake, the effectiveness of what was once the world's leading environmental organisation - with the power to bend governments and force corporations to bend to its will - has been in freefall over many years, in direct relation to an inner moral decline.

Today, while Greenpeace is an environmental organisation, it is not an ecological one. While it started out as an expression of people power, it has eschewed internal democracy with fervour. (This is the little seed of decay that has eaten out the heart of the organisation.) As the world's ecological situation gets increasingly desperate and in need of the hope, possibilities and radical suggestions Greenpeace might once have given, the group is now utterly moribund.

Greenpeace was revivified from the UK in 1978 with the purchase of the Rainbow Warrior. A couple of wonderfully productive years saw the organisation expand in northern Europe. I was lucky enough to be there, and it was a fantastic time. One essential fact about Greenpeace then was that it was both idealistic and practical. Idealism was awash in the world at the time, and there is nothing like being at sea to sort out practicality. Ships bind people together, and loyal, tight, competent teamwork immediately set Greenpeace apart as a campaigning group. By chance the people who came together in London in 1977-78 were the rich brew necessary to kick things off in the right direction. It was the kind of successful mix planning never seems to achieve, but chance does.

By 1980 David McTaggart (a generation older than we others and the undisputed leader at that stage) felt strong enough to persuade the Canadian and US Greenpeace end their internecine strife and sign in to Greenpeace International (GPI). The body "owns" the name Greenpeace and holds copyright power over the independent national entities, who in turn fund GPI.

The new organisation rapidly developed into an effective, non-violent global pressure group; defending the natural environment from gross abuse and promoting peace and disarmament. The initial practicality lived on in the technical capability to run ships and campaigns in any ocean, and to operate an Antarctic base camp for three years. Greenpeace pioneered the ability to transmit film via satellite in ever shorter times; it had efficient book-keepers, accountants, communications technologists, photographers, fund-raisers and lawyers all giving solid backup; they had their own small, brilliant and brave scientific research lab, where an analysis could be arranged or a considered opinion had on any topic from over-fishing to nuclear pollution.

[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on October 15, 2005]


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