Greenpeace international IS an environmental organization that uses creative confrontation, usually in the form of media spectacles, to draw attention to specific environmental problems. Abrupt climate change caused by human-induced global warming is atop the organization's list of concerns. Scientists predict that if humans continue to burn fossil fuels at present rates, global warming will have catastrophic effects on existing ecosystems, natural landscapes, plant and animal populations, and human life. Greenpeace, which is a nongovernmental organization sup ported by charitable grants and membership fees, is at the forefront in the struggle to convince governments, businesses, and individuals that global warming is a real threat, and in finding ways to lessen human dependence on fossil fuels. From its headquarters in Amsterdam, the Stiching Greenpeace Council gathers almost three million supporters, directs activities in 27 national and regional offices located throughout the world, and promotes local and regional actions that include media-luring confrontations that produce image bites and aggressive lobbying of politicians and businesspersons.
The problems of global warming and climate change have only recently become central targets for Greenpeace. The testing of nuclear weapons galvanized the founding of the organization in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1972. Several American expatriates and Canadians joined hands to prevent the United States from testing nuclear bombs along the Aleutian coast of Alaska. Originally called the Don't Make a Wave Committee, after the potential tidal wave the explosions could raise in the North Pacific, the group sailed twice into the testing area of Amchitka, only to be turned away by the U.S. Navy. The U.S. government eventually discontinued the Aleutian Islands testing program as a consequence of Greenpeace's spectacular confrontations and the media attention they received. Since then, Greenpeace has been a pro-environmental force to be reckoned with, promoting greater knowledge of environmental issues including deforestation, air and water pollution, whaling, over-fishing, and genetically modified food crops.
In the late 1970s, Greenpeace International consolidated what was then an informal association of smaller groups carrying out actions in the name of Greenpeace. Headquarters were moved to Washington, D.C., and the organization refitted a fishing trawler, renaming it the Rainbow Warrior. The image of Greenpeace activists maneuvering their rubber dinghies in between industrial harpooner and terrific whale is representative of their purpose and determination.
Greenpeace's most famous stance came against the French nuclear testing program in the South Pacific beginning in the late 1970s, when activists sailed again into an exclusive zone, but this time encircling the Moruroa Atoll, the French test site. Again, they were rebuffed, but not so subtly. The French military rammed their yacht, the precursor to the Rainbow Warrior, and dished out a beating of the crew that was seen on television screens throughout the world. This raised more than a few eyebrows, and membership dollars. In 1985, Greenpeace set sail again for the atoll, but this time with the stout Rainbow Warrior. While docked in Auckland Harbor, New Zealand, French intelligence agents bombed the ship, killing a photojournalist. The French government of François Mitterand was humiliated and testing halted.
Greenpeace activism was significant in propelling several important international policies, furthering the goals of environmental conservation and preservation. They include the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (1991) that imposes a 50-year moratorium on the mining of resources on the continent; and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1996) now signed by 177 states including the United States, China, France, and Russia. During the summer of 2007, Greenpeace began construction of another ship on Mt. Ararat, in eastern Turkey, where Noah's Ark is said to have rested after the biblical deluge. This may some day join their present fleet of five ships.
SEE ALSo: Marine Mammals; Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs).
bibliography. Shaun Burnie, "Detonating the Mind Bomb," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May-June 2005); Rex Weyler, Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World (Rondale Books, 2004); AP Press, "Greenpeace Builds Replica of Noah's Ark" (May 16, 2007).
Ken Whalen University of Florida
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