Greenpeace: Then and Now

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The Greenpeace movement has always been one of direct action, unlike many advocates for the environment who take the long route of preparing legislation, lobbying, and defending legalize. While Greenpeace does that as well now that they have created the groundswell of activist support worldwide now, with offices in 40 countries, and nearly 3 million supporters, this all stems from the fiery spirit to literally make change. 

History of a Movement

Greenpeace was born on September 15th, 1971 when 12 activists used a fishing trawler to protest U.S. nuclear testing in Alaska (Montgomery). In the spirit of the 1960s-70s burgeoning environmental awareness, these activists painted peace symbols on their trawler, and set out to make a spectacle. It is ironic in a sense that the movement has the word “peace” in it because the movement’s history is full of trouble making and people getting arrested. However, that is usually the way of peace workers moving against the tide of consumerism which is chomping the entire planet in its greedy maw. 

In 1985 Greenpeace sailed the Rainbow Warrior towards the Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia to protest a series of nuclear tests. However, French secret agents had planted mines on the ship: The first mine exploded at 11.38pm when many of the crew were asleep, and blew a large hole in the ship’s hull. Pereira, who had returned to his cabin to retrieve his cameras was below deck when a second bomb exploded. The Portuguese-born photographer, 35, was trapped in his cabin and drowned. (Willsher)

In 2015 the French spy who planted these mines came forward to express his guilt and regret at the killings. His apology makes it appear as if the mission was to sink the ship without killing anyone. The agent, Jen-Luch Kister, said “We are not assassins and we have a conscience…I have the weight of an innocent man’s death on my conscience … It’s time, I believe, for me to express my profound regret and my apologies” (Willsher). Greenpeace representatives do not believe the intent was non-lethal, and still harbor bitterness about it with good reason.

However, through trial, tribulation, and death the movement pushed on as the passion for environmentalism found more footholds throughout the world. The focused mandate of Greenpeace has emerged as; part of the Greenpeace mandate from the beginning has been to eliminate all nuclear weapons and put an end to our reliance on non-renewable resources. Its main goal is to stop climate change, and the group is credited with raising public awareness of that issue markedly throughout the 1990s. In fact, Greenpeace was one of the first groups to create a plan that championed sustainable development as a solution to climate change. (Brayton)

To support the efficacy of this mandate Greenpeace has always maintained independent funding and independent ties so that they never become ensconced in a conflict of interests. With their get it done attitude Greenpeace have created unique approaches to achieve their goals. For example,in addition to protesting and raising awareness, Greenpeace has also used its own laboratories to research and locate alternative solutions to ongoing problems. This effort has included the invention of Greenfreeze, a technology for refrigerator manufacturing that eliminates the use of ozone-depleting CFCs. Today, over of refrigerators produced are based on this technology. (Brayton)

The Crew Then and Now

Many of the original members of the Greenpeace movement are still active. Looking back, researchers emphasize, “Arguably Greenpeace's most lasting legacy has been to cement the idea that questioning authority on environmental matters is now essential to all societies” (Greenpeace International). Steve Sawyer has been campaigning and adventuring with Greenpeace for 29 years, and his perspective emphasizes how the members are often sentimental about the past, perhaps when the environment was healthier. Sawyer comments, greenpeace has certainly changed…Although I must admit on my first Greenpeace action in 1978 there were people from Vancouver talking about the good old days when ships were made of wood, men were made of iron and Greenpeace was really vital. I've been hearing this 'good old days' crap now for 25 years. (Greenpeace International)

Longtime campaigner, and deck hand on the Rainbow Warrior who escaped the blast, Bunny McDiarmid, has been with the movement for nearly thirty years, and feels no need to slow down. Activism can really take it out of people, but the Greenpeace crew have real staying power. Today Bunny affirms that the movement needs to adapt, change, and grow. She cannot help but be a bit cynical after three decades of activism with the current state of the environment and global armament, but she is not giving up. Bunny comments, we don't have a lot of cue cards; there are not a lot of models to copy. I actually think that if Greenpeace is going to make a contribution to this planet it will be how we do that. It'll be about how we figure out a way to work with each other across all those different divides, political, cultural, and religious. (Greenpeace International)

The power of the movement also moves through families. Following in her father’s footsteps, forty-four years later, Emily Hunter found herself in a similar Greenpeace mission when her father “and a group of Greenpeace co-founders sailed to stop nuclear testing on the Alaskan island of Amchitka. Today, we have just taken a similar passage on the west coast to disrupt Shell's plans for drilling in the Arctic this year” (Hunter). Empowered and inspired by her father’s example, Emily continues to take a stand for the environment on which her children depend on. 

Mind Bombs

A concept developed in response to the protesting of real bombs, Greenpeace developed the symbology of “Mind Bombs”, which is based on the belief that the greatest tool for protecting the environment and human sustainability is the evolution of consciousness. Emily Hunter writes, “Greenpeace was founded by dreamers. People who believed they could turn the tides of history against a great sense of impossibility. They had a vision for what could be, and sparked that same imagination in others” (Hunter). Much like the peaceful protests of John Lennon, consciousness is the most effective vehicle for empowering change, and this has been at the foundation of Greenpeace’s approach, both then and now. 

The current Mind Bomb Greenpeace initiative is to inundate Shell oil with the impression that their drilling for oil in the Arctic is not a viable option. Activists call this a “climate bomb” in that the Arctic is an essential cooling system for the Earth’s warming biosphere (Hunter). Just as fracking on the San Andreas Fault is a bad idea, mining the fragile and shrinking arctic is only a recipe for disaster. Greenpeace’s Mind Bombs draws attention to the escalating consequences of unsustainable behaviors which threatened all life on the planet.  

This process is continuing to roil and boil in the hyper-fueled industrialization of China which is blanketing that region in toxic smog which is accelerating climate change in the region. Greenpeace has been keeping the pressure on the Chinese government to keep their promise to curb coal plant productions in order to address the smog issue, but the mad machine just keeps rolling. In fact, “projects already in the pipeline, as well as loopholes in policy, mean China is on track to add an average of one new coal-fired plant a week until 2020, according to a report…by Greenpeace East Asia” (Wong). This would create economic growth for the construction sector, but would result in 400 gigawatts of excess capacity of energy which would waste $150 billion dollars while heavily contributing to toxicity.

The Now

Continuing to keep up pressure on those who seek to exploit the environment unto the destruction of the biosphere, Greenpeace Netherlands has grown hoarse from whistleblowing in the face of the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In May of this year, the news came that TTIP was organized as a huge transfer of power from people to business,’ Greenpeace Netherlands on Monday leaked 248 secret pages of the controversial trade deal between the U.S. and EU, exposing how environmental regulations, climate protections, and consumer rights are being ‘bartered away behind closed doors.’ (Fulton)

Insisting that the regulatory bodies of the world do their part, Greenpeace continues to cite gross injustice and call the corrupt to account. Just in 2015, “In December, Greenpeace urged the federal government to investigate oil companies and organizations that dispute the risks of climate change under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act” (Alder). The risks of climate change are real and verifiable, and legislation like RICO has been passed to give humanity a way to call out dangerous profiteering.

As always there are those who decry Greenpeace’s methodology as “alarmist” and “overblown” but that is the nature of passionate activists who are to put their very lives on the line for the health of the environment, and what they perceive to be the sustainable future of humanity. Greenpeace activists do not care about any amount of slander heaped upon them in their duties to justice. Greenpeace is one of many groups citing RICO as a means of halting the unbridled expansion of resource extortion. The battles go on and on, a little give, a lot of , and the next generation of activists line up to take a swing for their future. 


Then to now, Greenpeace has been a movement totally committed to environmental health, disarmament, and a vision of a sustainable future of humanity in which the next generations will be given the chance to continue evolution. All the while big business has been working their shady way to undermine these efforts in any way they can. No one can blame Greenpeace if they get their hands a bit dirty sometimes fighting back. After all, humanity’s future is a fight worth fighting for.

Works Cited

Adler, Jonathan H. “No peace for Greenpeace.” The Washington Post, 31 May 2016. Retrieved from:

Brayton, Rebecca. “The History of Greenpeace: Environmental Activists.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

Fulton, Deirdre. “Today Marks the End of TTIP': Greenpeace Leak Exposes Corporate Takeover.” Common Dreams, 2 May 2016. Retrieved from:

Greenpeace International. “The crew then and now.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

Hunter, Emily. “Then & Now: Launching a ‘Mind Bomb’ to save the Arctic.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

Montgomery, Marc. “History: Sept 15, 1971, the Canadian origins of Greenpeace.”, 16 Sep. 2015. Retrieved from:

Willsher, Kim. “French spy who sank Greenpeace ship apologizes for lethal bombing.” The Guardian, 6 Sep. 2015. Retrieved from:

Wong, Edward. “China pledged to curb coal plants. Greenpeace says it’s still adding them.” The New York Times, 13 July 2016. Retrieved from: