Greenpeace started in the late 1960s as kind of loosely organised Ghandian, Quakerish protest against big government and big business, especially in anything to do with the environment. Its genesis was a US nuclear bomb test in a distant Alaskan island, and nuclear testing in the Pacific by the French in the 1970s and 1980s also drew Greenpeace protest action, most notably in the case of the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace vessel destroyed by the French in Auckland harbour.
The organisation became ‘Greenpeace’ in 1970, and is now headquartered in the Netherlands. Greenpeace Australia was set up in the early 1970s, and we get a lot of Greenpeace activity on our television screens because of its attempts to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. Its European headquarters seems to have had an income of around 200 million euros in 2008, donated by around two million regular supporters, mostly in Europe. So it’s quite big and quite well-funded. It does not receive donations from governments or corporations.
What is it about? Its website defines its mission like this:
- Catalysing an energy revolution to address the number one threat facing our planet: climate change.
- Defending our oceans by challenging wasteful and destructive fishing, and creating a global network of marine reserves.
- Protecting the world’s remaining ancient forests which are depended on by many animals, plants and people.
- Working for disarmament and peace by reducing dependence on finite resources and calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
- Creating a toxin free future with safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals in today’s products and manufacturing.
- Campaigning for sustainable agriculture by encouraging socially and ecologically responsible farming practices.
Some of these goals sound like those of the UN, or one of its agencies, and you might think these goals are somewhat ambitious, perhaps even pretentious, for a non-governmental organisation. That doesn’t seem to worry those of its members who speak or write: you can see that they think the the Truth is with them, and that they should Prevail.
I’ve thought about the organisation and its activists for quite a long time now, and I’ve come to the view that the latter are best thought of as misguided idealists. Some might even describe them as ‘twits’. What they have been trying to do in the Southern Ocean, in attempting to board a Japanese whaler, they have now done again in another icy sea, that of the Arctic, in attempting to board a drilling platform owned by the Russians.
Somebody might have told them that if the Japanese could throw a Greenpeace member into the clink for a few weeks, the Russians would be a great deal tougher. And indeed they have been. Thirty of the Arctic Sunrise crew are waiting in a Russian jail for a couple of months while the State prepares its legal case against them for ‘piracy’ and other heinous crimes. If convicted they could spend 15 years in jail.
Now President Putin has said that he doesn’t think it was ‘piracy’, but he went on to say (and one could hardly disagree, if one saw the video footage) that the Russians on the platform would not have known what kinds of people were trying to scale the platform, and what they had in mind.
The Australian leader of Greenpeace, on television, said that it was ‘plainly a peaceful protest’. I don’t know what alternative world he inhabits, but it didn’t look like a peaceful protest on film. The platform summoned up some armed help very quickly, and the Arctic Sunrise people were led off to Murmansk, where they’ll spend a rather inactive few weeks until their case comes to trial.
The ABC was predictably sympathetic in its reporting on the TV news, and allowed about ten seconds of that story, from the partner of one of the arrested men, who asked why Greenpeace proposed to attempt a second storming of the platform after the first had been prevented. What did they have in mind?
It is hard to escape the feeling that some at least of those who organise these adventures are living out boyhood dreams and/or delighted to be in the limelight. The more fuss the better, and who cares if someone drowns or is jailed — it was for a good cause. Both the Australian spokesman and a Greenpeace young woman who commented took the view that the real villains were the Russians, who were drilling for oil in a fragile area. I don’t think that line of defence will work in Murmansk.
No doubt there will be loud calls for the Australian Government to get in there and save the one Australian involved from Russian justice. Speaking for myself, I hope the Australian Government says that the man’s behaviour was inexcusable, and that he must hope for leniency, as some kind of deluded, well-meaning person led astray by others.