views updated May 18 2018


LEADER: Gerd Leipold

ESTIMATED SIZE: 2.8 million

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Worldwide (head-quarters in Amsterdam; offices in forty-one countries)


Greenpeace is an international environmental group with offices in forty-one countries worldwide and 2.8 million supporters. Since it was founded in 1971, it has been instrumental in drawing worldwide public attention to a host of environmental concerns, including whaling, global warming, genetic modification of crops, and nuclear testing. Its mission statement disavows violence, but its critics say that its campaigning tactics have teetered over into extremism.


In many ways, Greenpeace can be viewed as an extension of the 1960s' peace and hippy movement. It emerged in Vancouver in 1969 as the "Don't Make a Wave Committee," and consisted of a group of Canadian and American expatriate (many of whom were living in self-imposed exile to dodge the Vietnam draft) political activists and hippies.

Its initial motivation was to "bear witness" to U.S. underground nuclear testing at Amchitka, an island off the west coast of Alaska. Its motivations were a mix of environmental concerns about the fate of the island's sea otters and bald eagles, and a deep-seated aversion to nuclear weapons. A seaborne mission in spring of 1971 on the boat, the Phyllis Cormack, was intercepted before it reached Amchitka, and the nuclear test went ahead. But, the activists had created a flurry of interest. Later on that year, the United States ended nuclear testing on the island.

The Committee renamed itself later in 1971 as a way of uniting interests of its members within its title. According to a possibly apocryphal story on its web site, it was a member called Bill Darnell who came up with the "dynamic" combination of words to bind together the group's concern for the planet and opposition to nuclear arms. "Somebody flashed two fingers as we were leaving the church basement and said 'Peace!'" Bill said. "Let's make it a Green Peace. And we all went Ommmmmmmm." The committee was renamed Greenpeace.

Two intrinsically linked events changed this fledgling organization from a minor Canadian pressure group to the world's biggest environmental organization. In 1972, Greenpeace put out an appeal for sympathetic yacht owners to help them protest against French atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific. Over the next twenty-five years, this would be Greenpeace's most ardently fought and famous campaign, helping heap international condemnation on successive French governments.

Answering that call was David McTaggart, a 40-year-old Canadian former entrepreneur, who was traveling the world in his yacht, as he put it, "finding himself." By his own account, he was initially more annoyed by the French government's unilateral decision to close off part of the Pacific to shipping than about the actual issue of nuclear testing, but his subsequent encounters with the French changed all that.

On June 17, 1972, and after seventy days at sea evading the New Zealand and French navies, McTaggart succeeded in holding up the tests by sailing his tiny 38-foot ketch, the Vega, within a few miles of the about-to-be detonated bomb, daring the French to kill him. The Vega was eventually rammed and taken in tow by a minesweeper, an action the French tried to pass off as a rescue.

A year later when he repeated the protest, McTaggart's yacht was boarded by French commandos, who gave him a severe beating. McTaggart lost the sight in one of his eyes for several months. The French tried to claim he had had an accident, then released photos of McTaggart dining with French naval officers, suggesting events had been amicable and that McTaggart had somehow staged his injuries. However, graphic photographs on a film taken by a fellow crew member, Anne-Marie Horne, were smuggled out and proved the French had lied. In the controversy that followed, the French abandoned atmospheric testing, but moved its nuclear testing underground.

These two events gave Greenpeace world-wide publicity and McTaggart a sense of mission. Previously a successful businessman and hugely single-minded individual (he was three times Canadian badminton champion), he had seemed to lose his direction when, in his mid 30s, a gas explosion at a ski lodge he owned had seriously injured one of his employees. He had subsequently left his wife and children to embark on his voyage of discovery when he had found his calling.

McTaggart utilized both the publicity he and Greenpeace had gained after the Vega's two missions and his business acumen to transform the Vancouver outfit into a global organization. In his mid 40s, McTaggart set about creating a Greenpeace in Europe, finding like-minded people to set up national organizations. By 1979, Greenpeace was unified across the Atlantic—as Greenpeace—with McTaggart running it. He remained chairman until 1991.

Greenpeace had also found a second hugely popular cause: "Save the Whales." This added to the organization's burgeoning popularity in the mid-1970s. In a series of spectacular protests, Greenpeace activists would chase whaling fleets and interpose themselves between the harpoon of a catcher ship and a fleeing whale. As with the protests against French nuclear testing, film and photographic footage was circulated in the world's media.



German-born Gerd Leipold has been International Executive Director of Greenpeace International since June 2001. The role serves as leader and public spokesperson of the entire organization, and he is responsible for leading its campaigns. A long-standing activist, Leipold had held a variety of senior positions within the organization prior to taking up the role. These have included directing Greenpeace's Nuclear Disarmament Campaign and the positions of Executive Director of Greenpeace Germany, Chair of the Board of Greenpeace Nordic, and a board member of Greenpeace Germany and Greenpeace USSR.

Speaking of his sense of mission and where he saw Greenpeace heading, Leipold said in 2003: "There are huge numbers of people on every continent who are committed to the common good, and who are no longer willing to accept the agendas of timid or inept governments or unscrupulous corporations. This global social movement has been described as the 'emerging second superpower' and is made up of millions of people dedicated to environmental protection, human rights and social development. The continued growth of Greenpeace shows that even in economically difficult times people have a vision of a different world. This is our best hope for a better future."

As environmental concerns crossed over into mainstream political debate in the 1980s, Greenpeace's protests branched out, though never losing its focus. As McTaggart would later say of its approach: "No campaign should be begun without clear goals; no campaign should be begun unless there is a possibility that it can be won; no campaign should be begun unless you intend to finish it off." Its protests during this time included the destruction of the Amazonian rain forests, pollution caused by disused oil wells, contamination of the oceans, and global warming. Worldwide support for Greenpeace would peak in 1991 at 4.8 million.

But protests against nuclear testing remained its most potent campaign and source of publicity as well as acting as a constant source of irritation for various governments, particularly the French, who seemed to bear the brunt of Greenpeace's protests. In 1985, as Greenpeace prepared another flotilla to try to avert French nuclear testing at Moruroa atoll, French special forces, acting under the direct orders of President Francois Mitterand, attached two bombs to the hull of the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior. When the two bombs detonated, they sank the ship, killing a Portuguese photographer, Fernando Pereira.

The bombing of Rainbow Warrior caused international outrage, and the French government went on to pay the New Zealand authorities considerable compensation, as well as offering a formal apology. Yet, some critics of Greenpeace have suggested that the French were right to attack Rainbow Warrior as Greenpeace had itself used illegal methods in some of its protests. This suggested that, for all the worthy causes it backed, Greenpeace was actually using extremism in pursuit of its causes.

Greenpeace has always disavowed violence, although some of its "peaceful" confrontations at sea and interventions in whaling expeditions or nuclear testing have been in contravention of maritime law, or placed other vessels (including its own) in danger. Denmark has used its anti-terrorism laws to prosecute a Greenpeace member, although this was for trespassing rather than placing other people in imminent danger. Indeed its stunts, now, as ever, hold nuisance value rather than anything more insidious. For instance, in 2005, its British Executive Director, Stephen Tindall, chained himself with other activists to an SUV production line. More recently, thirteen members in the U.K. were arrested for leading protests at silos holding genetically modified grain, which Greenpeace claimed were of an "illegal" strain. They were later acquitted of public nuisance crimes.

It would be difficult, moreover, to take all of the criticisms of Greenpeace seriously. Some of Greenpeace's opponents dislike the group's left-wing origins, and others dislike its anti-corporate stance. A typical and well-publicized complaint was a letter published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, republished on the anti-environmentalist web site,, by Dan S. Borné, President of the Louisiana Chemical Association. Mr. Borné pondered whether: "Greenpeace is a tool of state-sponsored eco-terrorism?" The nub of his complaint was that Greenpeace had published a variety of petrochemical worst-case scenarios on the Internet and given details of plants so that activists could protest. A would-be terrorist could not only take inspiration from such a scenario, he believed, but be led—thanks to Greenpeace—to the site of a potential crime.


Don't Make A Wave Committee emerges in Vancouver. Their first acts are the blocking of the Canadian border with Alaska to stop nuclear tests and later observance of tests.
Group renamed as Greenpeace.
David McTaggart brings worldwide attention by evading New Zealand and French navies to disrupt nuclear testing in the Pacific.
McTaggart savagely beaten by French commandoes while again disrupting nuclear tests.
McTaggart organizes Greenpeace organizations across Europe. This culminates in the formation of Greenpeace International in 1979.
French Special Forces bomb Rainbow Warrior.
Greenpeace Support peaks at 4.8 million.
Death of David McTaggart in a car crash in Italy.

At the same time, it is worth mentioning that Greenpeace has lost prominent supporters because some members assert that it is not radical enough. It has been accused of links to Earth First!, an eco-terrorist group infamous for sabotaging logging expeditions, claims which it has denied. However, one of Greenpeace's more notorious splinter groups was set up by Paul Watson, a founding director of the movement and member number seven. Watson left Greenpeace in 1977, believing that its nonviolent direct action did not go far enough to protect the world's oceans (it is also alleged that he was expelled from the group for attacking seal hunters). Instead, he formed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. His new organization adopted an array of militant tactics, including the cutting of drift nets, ramming whaling ships, attacking commercial fishing operations, and even bombing fishing vessels.

Greenpeace Marks Bombing Anniversary

The 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour will be marked on 10 July.

The bombing, carried out by French secret service agents, was an attempt to sabotage the 1985 Greenpeace campaign against Pacific Island nuclear testing.

The attack resulted in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior and the death of crew member Fernando Pereira, a freelance photographer.

The event hurtled Greenpeace into instant global celebrity and ensured that Rainbow Warrior Mark II became an enduring icon of the environmental movement.


Andy Booth, former Greenpeace UK campaign director, remembers the day well: "At the time, we were planning a direct action against the Drax power station in Yorkshire, as part of our international campaign to stop acid rain.

"We used to sleep in the office during busy periods and it was in the middle of the night here when the news first broke.

"Back then, Greenpeace was a small organisation and everyone knew everyone. We were a close group of people who cared deeply about the deteriorating state of the world and everyone wanted to make a difference.

"We were young, believed right was on our side, and felt almost invincible. The sinking and Fernando's death shook the organisation to its core. It brought home the life and death nature of the campaigns we were waging—but for most of us, it only served to strengthen our resolve."

Captain of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 was Pete Willcox, who has job-shared the captaincy for over 24 years.

Today, moored for the weekend in the New Zealand fishing port of Nelson, Greenpeace gets a mixed reception from the locals, many of whom are fishermen dependent on their employers' use of bottom-trawling—which Greenpeace wants to ban.

But nothing too scary: "Bared buttocks and paint bombs we can live with," says Mr Willcox.

Asked about the events of 20 years ago, Mr Willcox describes how the noise of the first bomb woke him in his cabin and his immediate thought was a collision at sea—until he remembered they were berthed in Auckland harbour.

"I looked out the porthole, saw the lights on the dock and relaxed. Then the generator stopped, there was a silence followed by the shattering of glass as the water burst in."

As Mr Willcox called for everyone to get up on deck, there was a second explosion—a French mine detonated so close to Pereira's cabin that the photographer was probably knocked unconscious and drowned in the fast-rising water.

The Warrior listed grotesquely, held up on one side by its mooring ropes. Willcox gave the order to abandon ship and a stunned crew stood on the wharf watching the Rainbow Warrior spewing diesel oil and air bubbles.


The police arrested the Greenpeace crew, believing they must be behind the bombings. But at dawn, as soon as divers inspected the boat's hull, it was clear that mines had been attached externally.

Within days, fingers pointed at France and its desire to stop the planned "Pacific Peace Flotilla."

The Pacific Peace Flotilla was a fleet of protest boats to be led by Rainbow Warrior on a voyage to the Pacific island of Moruroa, to protest against French nuclear weapons tests.

France, who initially denied any involvement, later admitted responsibility.

Today, Greenpeace lobbies on many fronts—climate change, the oceans, ancient forests, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals, nuclear weapons, sustainable trade are all the focus of current campaigns.

Mr Willcox says he feels as strongly about these issues now as he did 24 years ago.

On bottom-trawling, he asserts: "Greenpeace is absolutely not anti-fishing—we want as much fish as it's sustainable to catch—we want our grandchildren to eat fish. But it's clear to me that we need to back off from the ocean and give it time to recover. History says fishing companies will fish a species to extinction if you let them."

Mr Willcox says he is proud to be captaining the Warrior as it takes a break from deep sea adventures to attend commemorations in Auckland.

In 1985, Fernando Pereira's body was laid to rest in New Zealand's Matauri Bay. It is there that the Rainbow Warrior will be on 10 July for a ceremony to honour Mr Pereira.

A benefit gig by New Zealand and Australian bands has also been organised for that night. It is expected the events will attract Greenpeace campaigners from all over the world.

                               Mic Dover

Source: BBC News, 2005

It was also the London-based Greenpeace splinter group that, in 1986, waged a campaign against McDonald's, criticizing the restaurant chain on a number of issues, including the destruction of the Amazonian rain forests, cruelty to animals, and its labor policy. McDonald's sued the activists for defamation, leading to the so-called "McLibel" trial, the longest in British history. A judge awarded in McDonald's favor, but awarded only token damages after finding key elements of the activists' case correct.

Whether these two examples could be regarded as the actions of "extremists" is purely subjective, but in both cases their methods went beyond what Greenpeace regarded as acceptable.

In recent years, Greenpeace has tried to make inroads in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Its recent campaigns have included opposition to the war in Iraq, President Bush's proposed Star Wars program, raising awareness of renewable sources of energy, opposition to nuclear energy, GM foods, and a renewed campaign to save the rain forests.


Greenpeace is an international environmental organization that propagates nonviolent direct action to raise awareness and as a means of protest. It states in its 1983 pamphlet, the Greenpeace Philosophy: "Ecology teaches us that humankind is not the centre of life on the planet. Ecology has taught us that the whole earth is part of our 'body' and that we must learn to respect it as we respect ourselves." Its philosophy also draws on the Quaker tradition of bearing witness to raise awareness and bring public opinion to bear on decision-makers. It is naturally leftist, although it has never—in its recent history, at least—propagated any sort of Marxist interpretation of environmental issues.

Its direct action has manifested itself in a number of ways. Its most famous protests have been seaborne: intercepting whaling missions or disrupting nuclear tests, but these are generally exceptional and its activists are more prolific on a local basis. Its network of international, national, and regional offices means it can organize a protest on a micro level, yet also give global exposure to it.

Its huge "supporter" base, although currently forty percent down, gives it massive financial clout relative to other environmental organizations. At the same time, it refuses corporate donations, stating that it refuses to be compromised by such munificence, although it has accepted large sums from prominent business figures and celebrities.


In an article in Forbes in November 1991, entitled "The Not So Peaceful World of Greenpeace," published shortly after David McTaggart stepped down as Greenpeace boss, Leslie Spencer (with Jan Bollwerk and Richard C. Morais) criticized the organization's lack of accountability and accused it of cleverly manipulating the world's media. "Outfits like Greenpeace attack big business as being faceless and responsible to no one," the authors argued. "In fact, that description better fits Greenpeace than it does modern corporations that are regulated, patrolled and heavily taxed by governments, reported on by an adversarial press and carefully watched by their own shareholders. There's little accountability for outfits like Greenpeace. The media treat them with kid gloves. Press Greenpeace and it will reveal that McTaggart's salary was $60,000, but it won't say anything about any other forms of compensation—something a U.S. corporation would be compelled to reveal in its proxy statements…."

"Greenpeace campaigns, like the save-the-whale one, often seem open and almost spontaneous. But they are carefully orchestrated, beginning with a network of investigators who collect tips from government officials, truck drivers and sympathetic employees at corporate targets of Greenpeace antipollution campaigns…. This much is clear: With its network of contacts, Greenpeace has turned itself into a vigilante group—vigilant in enforcing antipollution laws, but acting as judge and jury whenever it decides that government enforcers aren't forceful enough. That little of this is widely understood is not surprising. A sympathetic press has always been a Greenpeace ally…."

Although some environmentalists criticize Greenpeace for its relative conservatism, to many in the green movement they are heroes who brought the environmental cause into the political mainstream. Writing in Satya—a magazine of "vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy, and social justice"—Paul Clarke celebrated the organization for sticking to its nonviolent campaigning and for its enduring role.

"From it's [sic] very beginnings, Greenpeace has committed itself to a confrontational, no-compromise approach to dealing with international environmental problems in a strictly nonviolent manner," he wrote. "The way the organization dealt with issues such as nuclear testing and commercial whaling seemed unsettlingly non-conformist—even revolutionary—when compared with the activities of the more established conservation organizations, such as the Sierra Club and the Audobon Society … The conservation establishment, who had achieved much of their work through cautious compromises with large corporations and governments, worried that Greenpeace would bring the entire environmental movement down in disgrace with its crazy stunts; some of that uneasiness still lingers in the modern environmental movement. But, as the mainstream groups, corporations, and governments quickly learned, the use of high-profile actions and demonstrations coupled with taking international environmental issues to the streets seemed to produce results: the known annual harvest of whales dropped from 25,000 in 1975 to less than 300 in 1993, and in recent weeks an international agreement, heavily lobbied by Greenpeace and backed up by very successful boycotts in Europe, was passed by the International Whaling Commission, creating a whale sanctuary around Antarctica."

"… [A]s Greenpeace continues to re-examine its approaches to accomplishing as much as possible in a rapidly changing world, there will always be one other constant: even if the research is ignored, the grassroots lobbying unsuccessful, the decision makers unsympathetic, there is always the certainty that Greenpeace activists will not give up. For after every other avenue is exhausted, there is still no building, smokestack, bridge, or boat that is completely impervious to the hanging of a colorful banner or the dramatics of nonviolent civil disobedience as Greenpeace activists work once more to bear witness to the world's most threatening international environmental dangers."


As Greenpeace approaches its fourth decade, it has had a significant impact on a wide range of environmental issues from nuclear testing to whale hunting, and (in Europe, at least) genetically modified food. Greenpeace continues to employ direct actions and protests, but remains committed to nonviolence. Although it has suffered a considerable drop in supporters since 1991, this reflects a global decline in membership of political and pressure groups. Greenpeace still claims 2.8 million members.



McTaggart, David. Rainbow Warrior. Munich: Goldmann, 2002.

Weyler, Rex. Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists and Visionairies Changed the World. New York: Rodale, 2004.

Web sites

Guardian Unlimited. "Interview with Simon Tindale: What Happened Next?" 〈,,1118794,00.html〉 (accessed October 12, 2005).


Earth First!

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society


views updated May 29 2018



Greenpeace is an international nongovernmental organization that in 2005 had forty-one branches and 2.8 million supporters worldwide. It was founded in 1970 by Canadian and American antiwar activists in Vancouver, British Columbia, to promote a peaceful world based on ecologically sustainable principles. In 1979 it became Greenpeace International and moved its headquarters to Amsterdam.

Greenpeace activists are best known for embracing the Quaker philosophy of "bearing witness" and Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of "nonviolent direct action" to combat nuclear testing, commercial whaling and sealing, toxic-waste dumping, and the like. "We fire images rather than missiles," Robert Hunter, one of the group's founding members, once famously stated, "mind bombs delivered by the world media" (Dyson, p. 58). Since most of their campaigns involve protecting the world's oceans, they rely primarily on an "eco-navy" of small ships outfitted with cameras, satellite technology, and zodiacs (motorized inflatable rafts). They call themselves "Warriors of the Rainbow," a reference to a Cree legend, according to which the races of the world would one day band together under the symbol of the rainbow to restore the earth's biodiversity. Critics decry them as "peace pirates," "ecoguerrillas," and "antinuclear musketeers."

Greenpeace undertook its first major campaign in 1971, when a small group of founding activists steered an old halibut seiner (dubbed Greenpeace) and an aging minesweeper (Greenpeace Too) to the Aleutian waters of Alaska in a daring effort to stop the United States from detonating a five-megaton nuclear bomb below the surface of Amchitka Island. In 1972 and again in 1973, the group sent the yacht Greenpeace III in a similar attempt to deter France from detonating an aboveground nuclear device on Mururoa, an island near Tahiti in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. While these quixotic ventures failed to stop the detonations, they attracted world media attention and helped turn public opinion against the testing. In 1972 the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission announced that it would no longer conduct underground tests in the Aleutians. In 1975 France put a moratorium on all aboveground testing in the South Pacific.

For the next decade, Greenpeace engaged in a series of campaigns to end commercial whaling and sealing and to stop the dumping of toxic wastes in the world's oceans and rivers. In 1977 the group confronted a Soviet whaling flotilla—the factory ship Dalniy Vostok and nine whale catchers—off the coast of California. After trying unsuccessfully to position a zodiac in the line of fire between a catcher and a whale, the Greenpeace crew ran their cameras as a Soviet harpooner killed an immature sperm whale in flagrant violation of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. These images, and many more broadcast around the world in subsequent years, eventually helped force the International Whaling Commission to declare a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1985. Greenpeace launched a similarly successful campaign to halt the killing of baby seals in Newfoundland in 1976. It used the same confrontational tactics to stop ships from dumping radioactive materials and chemical waste in the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea.

When France undertook a series of underground nuclear tests in Mururoa in 1985, Greenpeace sent its flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, to the South Pacific to disrupt the testing anew. On 10 July, however, the ship sank while in port in Auckland,New Zealand, after two explosions blew its hull apart, killing the Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira. Suspecting sabotage, New Zealand police soon arrested two French commissioned officers, Major Alain Mafart and Captain Dominique Prieur, who were posing as a honeymoon couple using counterfeit Swiss passports. Further investigation by Le Monde and other French newspapers directly implicated the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), the foreign operations wing of the French secret service. In September, President François Mitterrand and Prime Minister Laurent Fabius admitted that high-ranking government officials had engineered the sabotage. Soon thereafter, Charles Hernu, the minister of defense, and Admiral Pierre Lacoste, the head of the DGSE, resigned their posts. France agreed to pay for the loss of the Rainbow Warrior and to compensate Pereira's family. A New Zealand court sentenced Mafart and Prieur to ten years in prison. Aside from tarnishing France's international reputation, there were no other negative consequences of the Greenpeace scandal. Mitterrand was reelected in 1988. France continued to use Mururoa as a nuclear test site (aside from a two-year moratorium) until 1996. Most of the remaining saboteurs, all presumably members of the DGSE, escaped conviction.

In the early twenty-first century Greenpeace remains one of the world's most active environmental organizations. It continues to apply its "bearing witness" and "direct action" strategies to the mining, transport, and disposal of nuclear and other hazardous materials, and to the maintenance of ocean wildlife and ecology.

See alsoEnvironmentalism; Greens.


Brown, Michael, and John May. The Greenpeace Story. Rev ed. London, 1991.

Dyson, John, with Joseph Fitchett. Sink the Rainbow!: An Enquiry into the "Greenpeace Affair." London, 1986.

Hunter, Robert. Warriors of the Rainbow: A Chronicle of the Greenpeace Movement. New York, 1979.

Weyler, Rex. Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World. Vancouver, B.C., 2004.

Mark Cioc


views updated May 17 2018


Formed in 1971 by a group of Canadian and expatriate American Sierra Club members who wanted a more active form of environmentalism, Greenpeace is a global environmental organization with offices in 23 countries and international headquarters in Amsterdam. Its major campaigns include Atmosphere and Energy, Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power, Tropical Rainforests, Toxics, and Ocean Ecology. Its mission combines both environmental and peace issues. Since its inception, Greenpeace has been involved in hundreds of highly publicized direct-action campaigns against major polluters and government nuclear testing. Its flamboyant protests in the cause of ocean ecology in the 1970s heightened public awareness to environmental abuses around the world and drew millions of people to its membership list. Political pressure exercised by Greenpeace led to global treatise protecting whales and dolphins. It shocked public sentiment into action with graphic footage of baby seals being bludgeoned to death. In 1998, Greenpeace, one of the world's largest, wealthiest, and most successful environmental groups, had a membership totaling over 5 million people worldwide.

Greenpeace relies heavily on canvassing, telemarketing, and direct mail campaigns for mobilization, retention, and fund raising. Not allied with any political party, it accepts no corporate donations, and ninety percent of its revenues come from membership dues and other contributions. To promote their confrontational tactics, Greenpeace operates an international information service that consists of four units: Hard News and Features, Film and Video, Photo Desk, and Publications Division. It also runs mass-media crusades, drafts and lobbies for international conventions, participates in educational campaigns, and sells Greenpeace merchandise such as T-shirts and posters. Greenpeace concerts, albums, and compact discs, featuring groups such as U2, REM, and other major acts, market the organization's message to the world's youth.

The elemental principle behind the operation of Greenpeace is the American Quaker tradition of "bearing witness"—drawing attention to objectionable activity by unwavering presence at the site of abuse. The organization has a "navy" of eight ships, an "air force" of one hot air balloon and two helicopters, as well as an "action bus." Its bold protests have included sailing into nuclear testing zones, intercepting whaling vessels, and hanging banners from bridges, skyscrapers, and smokestacks. In the 1970s and 1980s, these demonstrations drew enormous media attention and Greenpeace became a model for other organizations by utilizing the mass media to influence public opinion. As a result of its campaign against the killing of harp seals, people around the globe changed their buying habits and stopped purchasing products made out of the seal pelts. In 1985, After protests against nuclear testing in the South Pacific, the French government sabotaged the organization's flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, in New Zealand. The sinking killed Fernando Pereira, a Greenpeace photographer, and sparked worldwide condemnation against France. This incident resulted in a doubling of the group's membership and a tripling of its revenues. It became the organization of choice for many high-profile celebrities and the pet issue for many Western politicians. The French government eventually paid Greenpeace $8 million in compensation for the destruction of the Rainbow Warrior.

During the 1990s, Greenpeace increasingly moved into the corporate board rooms, law offices, and scientific laboratories of the mainstream, but direct action—nonviolently confronting polluters and marine mammal killers—is what Greenpeace is best known for in the public mind. As Chris Rose, program director of Greenpeace UK in 1993 pointed out, "The moral imperative of demonstrators and direct action to save whales on the high seas was set against rationalizations and sales images of conventional commerce, and the whales won." The mythology of Moby Dick and Captain Ahab that had dominated human consciousness about whaling for over a century had been destroyed. The story became one of courageous whales fighting men in giant boats. Greenpeace's media exploits and public relations drives were the centerpiece of its strategies and the prototypes for other social movements striving to assert a presence in the electronic age. With its reputation as an effective, persistent, and uncompromising environmental organization, grown from its prowess as an efficient publicity machine, Greenpeace has been instrumental in alerting people around the world to environmental evils. Together with other organizations, it succeeded in moving the protection of the environment from a marginal to a central public and moral concern.

—Ken Kempcke

Further Reading:

Brown, Michael and John May. The Greenpeace Story. New York, Dorling Kindersley, 1991.

Rose, Chris. "Beyond the Struggle for Proof: Factors Changing the Environmental Movement." Environmental Values. Vol. 2, 1993, 185-98.

Wapner, Paul. "Politics Beyond the State: Environmental Activism and World Civic Politics." World Politics. Vol. 47, No. 3, 1995, 311-30.


views updated May 08 2018


Founded in 1971, Greenpeace is an international environmental organization dedicated to protecting the global environment through non-violent direct action, public education, and legislative lobbying. With a worldwide membership of over 2.5 million (approximately 250,000 in Greenpeace USA), Greenpeace operates offices in some 30 countries and maintains a scientific base in Antarctica .

Having mounted successful campaigns on a wide variety of environmental issues, Greenpeace is perhaps best known for its direct and often confrontational crusades against nuclear testing and commercial whaling . The group has also garnered wide publicity for protesting various environmental abuses by hanging enormous banners from smokestacks, buildings, bridges, and the scaffolding used in the renovation of the Statue of Liberty.

Greenpeace is presently active in four broadly defined environmental issue areasAtmosphere and Energy; Ocean Ecology and Forests; Toxins ; and Disarmament. In the area of Atmosphere and Energy, Greenpeace works to eliminate widespread dependence upon fossil fuels and lobbies for laws and policies encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. The group is also working to halt the spread of nuclear power and the dumping of radioactive waste as well as to ban ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

With regard to Ocean Ecology and Forests, Greenpeace seeks to protect both habitats and threatened species , including whales , harp seals , dolphins , sea turtles , elephants , and birds of prey. It works to discourage overfishing and other wasteful fishing practices, particularly the killing of dolphins in tuna nets. Greenpeace was instrumental in protecting Antarctica by persuading 23 nations to sign an accord banning all mining in Antarctica for at least 50 years. Supporting the principle of biodiversity , the group also works to protect tropical and temperate forests around the world. In 2002, the ships MV Esperanza and Rainbow Warrior stopped illegally logged timber from Africa and the Amazon from being imported.

In the area of Toxins, Greenpeace is especially concerned with stopping the use of unneeded chlorine in the bleaching of paper and with preventing the dumping of hazardous waste in Third World nations. Particularly concerned in recent years with dioxin , polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), CFCs, and pesticides, the group regularly investigates, publicizes, and lobbies against chemical pollution . Greenpeace also conducts research on the effects of toxic substances on human beings and the environment and encourages recycling as a means of reducing pollution. In 1998, Greenpeace activists prevented a PVC plant from opening in Convent, Louisiana.

Also concerned with Disarmament issues, Greenpeace conducts research into the effects of warfare on human beings and the environment and advocates the global elimination of nuclear weapons . More immediately, the group also urges the cessation of all nuclear and chemical weapons testing and is trying to persuade the major powers to agree to a global ban on naval nuclear propulsion.

In an effort to avoid compromising its goals and activities, Greenpeace does not seek corporate or government funding. Nor does it become directly involved in the electoral process in any of the nations in which it is active. Greenpeace's frequently confrontational tactics have on occasion provoked angry responses from various governmental authorities, including the bombing and sinking of Greenpeace's flagship vessel Rainbow Warrior by agents of the French government in 1985. The Rainbow Warrior had been in New Zealand preparing to protest French nuclear testing in the South Pacific when it was sabotaged. In October 1992 one of Greenpeace's ships was seized by the Russian coast guard while investigating Russian nuclear waste dumping in Arctic waters.

[Lawrence J. Biskowski ]



Greenpeace, 702 H Street NW, Washington, D.C. USA 20001 Toll Free: (800) 326-0959, , <>


views updated May 11 2018


Greenpeace is the largest environmental organization in the world with 2.8 million supporters worldwide and national as well as regional offices in forty-one countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific. It is a nonprofit organization founded in 1971 and based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Greenpeace is one of the nongovernmental organizations that have consultative status to the United Nations, and is an active participant in international conferences on the environment such as the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit and their treaty processes. As a global organization, Greenpeace focuses on what it feels are the most crucial worldwide threats to the planet's biodiversity and environment. Using nonviolent means, it campaigns to stop climate change, protect the oceans, stop whaling, stop genetic engineering, stop nuclear threats, eliminate toxic chemicals, and encourage sustainable development. Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments or corporations but relies on contributions from individual supporters and foundation grants.

Greenpeace was founded by a small group of activists in an old fishing boat, the Phyllis Cormack. They wanted to stop and "bear witness" to U.S. underground nuclear testing at Amchitka, a tiny island off the west coast of Alaska. Although their boat was intercepted and the bomb was detonated, nuclear testing there ended a year later. Greenpeace's creative communication and media-savvy tactics of bringing vivid images to the public, of individuals confronting huge corporations and governments, and of using specific cases to highlight broader issues sparked worldwide interest and changed the way advocacy groups conduct campaigns. In one of its best-known campaigns, activists placed small inflatable boats called zodiacs between whaling ships and the whales to protest the hunting practice and highlight toxic threats facing oceans. In 1987, Greenpeace's flagship the Rainbow Warrior was preparing to lead a peace flotilla of ships from New Zealand to the island of Moruroa to peacefully protest against French nuclear testing. Three days after arrival in Auckland, French agents bombed and sank the Rainbow Warrior in the harbor, killing Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira. After two years of international arbitration, a panel of three arbitrators awarded a U.S. $8.159 million damage claim settlement in favor of Greenpeace. The money, paid by the French government, was used in part by Greenpeace to support a worldwide fleet of ships and its campaigns for a nuclear- and pollution-free Pacific.

see also Activism; Antinuclear Movement; Arbitration; Earth Summit; Environmental Movement; Ethics; Global Warming; Hazardous Waste; Mass Media; Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOS); Ocean Dumping; Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS); Petroleum; Public Participation; Technology, Pollution Prevention; Treaties and Conferences; War; Water Pollution: Marine.


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Susan L. Senecah


views updated Jun 11 2018

Greenpeace International pressure group. It was founded in 1971, initially to oppose US nuclear testing in Alaska. Greenpeace promotes environmental awareness and campaigns against environmental abuse. It gains wide media coverage for its active, non-violent demonstrations against whaling, toxic-waste dumping and nuclear testing.


views updated May 17 2018

Greenpeace an international organization that campaigns actively but non-violently for conservation of the environment and the preservation of endangered species. The name is said to have been coined when the Canadian environmentalist Bill Darnell said, ‘Make it a green peace.’

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