I was struck by a recently re-coined adage today:
“It does not matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true.” Dr. Patrick Moore, President of Greenpeace Canada 1981
So I started fossicking around. First researching Dr. Patrick Moore himself (and the nature of his tenure as the President of Greenpeace Canada when that NGO was still very much in it’s infancy), and then the nature of the adage itself and how it applies to Greenpeace…
…and did I find some stuff!!
It would seem from my fossicking that Greenpeace (like no other eNGO) has both a vociferous base of supporters, who are prepared to go toe to toe with a considerable polemic of disparagers – who want to see the eNGO ‘normalise’.
I found a piece “How Greenpeace Works“, where a very pro-Greenpeace Sarah Dowdey proudly reminded us that:
[We] see Greenpeace in the places you’d least want to be. The crews of Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) face down whaling ships in the North Sea, perch atop abandoned oil rigs and float through the forbidden zones of nuclear-test areas.
Climate change denialists (CFACT) use Greenpeace Tactics in Protest: CFACT drop a banner on Greenpeace ships; the Rainbow Warrior with “Propaganda Warrior” banner; and the Arctic Sunrise with “Ship of Lies” banner earlier in the day
According to Sarah Dowdey Greenpeace uses these
[…] sensational, non-violent confrontations to expose governments and corporations that abuse environmental laws. Such bold tactics create journalistic buzz, get the public’s attention and frequently influence national and international environmental and conservation policies.
She adds that:
“Although some environmental groups criticize Greenpeace for its tactics and argue that such organizations should focus solely on research and lobbying, Greenpeace has had marked success in its more than three decades of protesting. No organization embodies daring environmentalism quite like Greenpeace, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving endangered species, protecting the environment and educating the public. Greenpeace is more than just a group of radicals on RIBs willing to put themselves in harm’s way.”
This piece got me thinking about Greenpeace Tactics and why they attract such a vehement polemic?
A CFACT press release in December 2009 entitled Climate Change Denialists Use Greenpeace Tactics celebrates the use of Greenpeace’s own tactics against them:
Global warming skeptics from CFACT yesterday [December 16, 2009] pulled off an international climate caper using GPS triangulation from Greenpeace’s own on-board camera photos to locate [Copenhagen, Denmark] and sail up long-side of the infamous Greenpeace vessel, Rainbow Warrior. Then in Greenpeace-like fashion, the CFACT activists unfurled a banner reading “Propaganda Warrior” which underscored how the radical green group’s policies and agenda are based on myths, lies, and exaggerations
Earlier in the day the activists daringly boarded Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise with neither stealth nor force, but by baffling the crew with doughnuts, and unfurled a banner that read “Ship of Lies” off the starboard side.
According to CFACT executive director Craig Rucker (the driver of the operation):
“Greenpeace has been using these kinds of tactics for decades, and now they can find out what it’s like to have a little taste of their own medicine.”
Craig Rucker provides justifications behind the banners:
“Greenpeace employs the same deceitful tactics in opposition to nuclear, hydroelectric and hydrocarbon energy, even though 1.5 billion people still do not have electricity – and thus don’t have lights for homes, hospitals and schools, or power to purify water and run offices, shops and factories.”
David Rothbard (the President of CFACT) acknowledged that initially Greenpeace was launched for the best of reasons:
“But it radicalized its mission. The more power it acquired, the more it abused that power,” he said. “Some of Greenpeace’s original cadre has left, feeling they can no longer associate themselves with its current agenda.”
According to CFAT campaigner Christina Wilson, Greenpeace is one of the:
“most unethical and irresponsible corporations on Earth […] It’s time to expose it for what it is, and help promote real environmental justice. So I was really excited to participate in this human rights effort.”
CFACT are not the only ones who are seeing red when they regard Greenpeace. In a blog piece “Many see red over Greenpeace tactics,” Rimbunan Hijau [from ITS Global] asserts in ardent j’accuserie tones:
Greenpeace trespasses, creates disturbance, slanders and breaks international maritime law to create video files for the evening news. Is this about to change?
It recently signed on to a code of conduct for non-governmental organisations that calls for honesty, fair comment, responsible public criticism and high standards of behaviour.
What is its record? [Well] It describes companies that have broken no law as corporate criminals. Shell, Nufarm, Monsanto and McDonald’s have had the treatment.
Last year, it profiled Charlie Banks, chief executive of a large British publicly-listed company, the Wolseley group, in a glossy report sensationally titled Partners In Crime: the UK timber trade, Chinese sweatshop, and Malaysian robber barons in Papua New Guinea’s rainforests. Wolseley’s crime was to import timber from China that may have included timber from PNG.
So what exactly are Greenpeace Tactics?
Greenpeace claim to follow Gandhi’s model of Non-violent direct action (or NVDA). But they don’t!
I would argue that what Gandhi espoused was not NVDA at all, but Civil Disobedience. He asserted [as I see it] that an unjust law or an unjust regime may be overcome if everybody [that is society] refused to adhere to it:
“Civil disobedience is the assertion of a right which law should give but which it denies… Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good… All through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants… and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall, always.” Mahatma Gandhi
Where Gandhi’s concept of Civil Disobedience requires societal change through the actions (or more accurately the non-actions) of the many against the few; Greenpeace’s concept of NVDA involves only action that is undertaken by a few for the many. In this way, Gandhi’s concept of Civil Disobedience contrasts starkly with Greenpeace’s concept of NVDA.
Simply, NVDA involves only a few who hold a belief that something is wrong, and act out against that perceived wrong, for what they believe is for the benefit of the many! According to Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“We who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with… Injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience, before it can be cured.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
I would argue that Greenpeace styled NVDA (although not the same) is more closely aligned with the tactics of the activists of the 1960s who broke the law to create response, than the campaign of civil disobedience that ultimately lead to the emancipation of India from British colonial rule.
Yet even here I find it hard to draw parallels between 1960s NVDA and Greenpeace NVDA.
In my opinion…
The Civil Rights movement that saw the use of the term NVDA, was about the emancipation of a people… Consequently the NVDA of the Civil Rights movement became less ‘radical’ and increasingly ‘normalised’ and ‘socially just’ as the civil rights campaign picked up momentum…
I would argue that in a relatively very short time, as people became aware of the injustice of their current civil rights regime, what was once merely NVDA, crossed the line into Gandhi-styled Civil Disobedience for the common purpose of evoking a civil rights regime change… But of course driven by action instead of in-action….
In this way the NVDA employed by Greenpeace is a significant departure from that employed in the 1960’s in the USA.
How does Greenpeace see their brand of NVDA?
Our friend Sarah Dowdey makes the point that:
Although some environmental groups criticize Greenpeace for its tactics and argue that such organizations should focus solely on research and lobbying, Greenpeace has had marked success in its more than three decades of protesting.
She points out that Greenpeace is indeed:
A large International Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) with national and regional chapters in 40 countries. It has 2.8 million supporters worldwide who donate money and volunteer time.
What is more Ms Dowdey makes a strong point that:
Greenpeace cultivates a large support base because it does not accept donations from governments, corporations, political parties or multinational bodies like the United Nations or the European Union.
So is Sarah correct? Is the money received in donations tacit support for Greenpeace’s policy of NVDA and non-alignment with governments, corporations, political parties or IGOs?
I would say no!
Why not? Well its simple. Support for Greenpeace isn’t unified and normalised. Rather support is ad hoc, fragmented and project based. For many Greenpeace’s take is radical. Even the claim that Greenpeace has close to 3 million supporters worldwide can be tempered with discussion of what actually constitutes support, and a hard look at the nature and extent of that support.
This excerpt from the article written by Mike Gaworecki (the web editor for Greenpeace USA), “Greenpeace: In Defense of Our Recent Activism Tactics,” published on the Treehugger website which celebrates Greenpeace’s long history of using peaceful protest to achieve environmental victories, I think illustrates the ad hoc approach that Greenpeace takes:
Last month, Greenpeace lived up to its history. We re-branded Hewlett-Packard (HP) as “Hazardous Products” at its headquarters to remind the company of its commitments to phase toxic chemicals out of its products, while we hung a banner on Mt. Rushmore urging President Obama to “Be a Leader NOT a Politician: Stop Global Warming.”
What’s my point here?
Well my point is this! Greenpeace is not a social movement. It’s employment of NDVA is not akin to that which was utilised in the 1960s, as their campaigns have never become the campaigns of the many for for the many. Yet I get the impression that they are not intended to be such anyway. The subtext from Mike Gaworecki’s “Greenpeace: In Defense of Our Recent Activism Tactics” alludes to this idea loudly and clearly. The non-violent direct actions of Greenpeace are designed to just be enough:
More than the actions themselves, perhaps, the public awareness we gain from NVDA is what will really drive change. By helping to shape the public debate, Greenpeace is helping make a green and peaceful future a reality.
Greenpeace have been existing on the fringes, protesting in almost exactly the same way, inside and outside the law, since 1971. No campaign has ever gained enough traction to change the world… I do not expect that to happen any time soon…
Greenpeace have found their niche… They have graduated from the small time ‘good fight’ NVDA type eNGO to a large international NGO that employs NVDA type campaigns as part of a sophisticated modus opperandi to draw attention to problems, and at the same time, demonstrate that they are in the thick of it… fighting the good fight… for us!
Greenpeace has learned that the problems business pays well… Demonstrating that problems exist is good for business, fixing them is not!!!