- Most prominent group on the environmentalist Left
- Attempted to blockade ships delivering supplies to coalition forces in Iraq
- Leads environmentalist opposition to technological progress
Founded in 1970 as a loose assortment of Canadian anti-nuclear agitators, American expatriates, and underground journalists calling themselves the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee,” Greenpeace is today the most influential group of the environmental Left. Its stated mission is to “use non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and force solutions for a green and peaceful future.” After a schism in the late 1970s, the various organizations originally comprising Greenpeace have today united into 41 affiliates and two main branches, Greenpeace USA and the Amsterdam-based Greenpeace International.
As their maiden act in 1970, a group of Greenpeace activists sailed to Amchitka Island, a part of the Aleutian Island chain, to disrupt an underground U.S. nuclear weapons test. They claimed that the test could trigger a powerful earthquake and a subsequent tidal wave that, as Greenpeace member Bob Hunter put it, “would slam the lips of the Pacific rim like a series of karate chops” and exact irreparable harm to the local sea otter population. The test went on as scheduled and did not produce those results.
During the ensuing years, Greenpeace conducted sustained attacks on the whaling and fishing industries, whose practices it claimed were decimating populations of those creatures. In the early 1990s, the organization turned its attention to the purported threat that chlorine posed to the world’s water supplies. At the time, Greenpeace asserted that it would accept nothing less than the blanket prohibition of the element. “There are no uses of chlorine which we regard as safe,” declared Greenpeace activist Joe Thornton, author of Pandora’s Poison.
Strongly opposed to America’s March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Greenpeace has strived to obstruct the war efforts of the U.S. and its allies. In January 2003, the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior attempted to blockade a British military supply port so as to “cut the military supply chain to the war in Iraq.” Greenpeace staged a nearly identical action two months later, when the Rainbow Warrior led a procession of activist-laden rafts in attempting to blockade a joint U.S.-Spanish naval base in southwestern Spain and thereby prevent an American freighter from delivering supplies to coalition forces in the Gulf. Also in March 2003, Greenpeace activists tried to block off the residence of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, citing Australia’s support for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as their motivation. In the Netherlands, Greenpeace blockaded a ship transporting U.S. military equipment that the group claimed was bound for Iraq.
Greenpeace’s current campaigns include the following:
- Stop Climate Change: This initiative seeks “[t]o go from a world powered by nuclear and fossil fuels to one running on renewable energy,” so as to check the rise of “[h]uman-caused climate change” and to “avert the worst effects of a warming world.”
- Save Our Seas: This campaign warns of “the crisis facing our oceans from the Azores to Antarctica.”
- Protect Ancient Forests: “These magnificent ancient forests are under threat. … in the next 10 to 20 years, the world looks set to lose thousands of species of plants and animals.”
- Eliminate Toxic Chemicals: “The production, trade, use, and release of many synthetic chemicals is now widely recognized as a global threat to human health and the environment.”
- End the Nuclear Threat: “[T]he use of nuclear power has never been ‘peaceful.’ … the planet is left with the legacy of nuclear waste, which will be radioactive for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”
- Encourage Sustainable Trade: “The World Trade Organization (WTO) promotes free trade for the gain of private interests, over and above our health and the environment. … In essence, the WTO is a tool of rich and powerful countries. Poorer countries are losing out to the interests of the industrialised world.”
- Abolish Nuclear Weapons: “Only when all countries pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith can we begin putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle by banning the use and manufacture of the nuclear materials at the heart of the bomb.”
- Say No to Genetic Engineering: “These genetically modified organisms (GMO) can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating non-‘GE’ environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way.”
Taking issue with Greenpeace’s anti-biotech stance, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore left the organization and now laments that the group has become “dominated by leftwingers and extremists who disregard science in the pursuit of environmental purity.”
According to a December 20, 2005 New York Times report, “the F.B.I. investigated possible financial ties between [Greenpeace] members and militant groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front.”
An expose of Greenpeace’s fundraising practices carried out in 2003 by Public Interest Watch (PIW), a nonprofit watchdog group, led to a report disclosing that Greenpeace uses its Greenpeace Fund, a tax-exempt entity debarred from engaging in political advocacy and lobbying by the IRS tax code, to illegally direct funds to Greenpeace Inc., a tax-exempt organization permitted to engage in lobbying and advocacy but not to accept tax-deductible funds. PIW calculated that in 2000, $4.25 million was provided by the Greenpeace Fund in this way.
In July 2014 it was reported that during the preceding two years, Greenpeace’s international program director, Pascal Husting, had routinely chartered a jet to shuttle him most weeks between his home in Luxembourg and his office in Amsterdam. Those 500-mile round-trip flights each generated approximately 313 pounds of carbon dioxide. In response to the embarrassing revelation, Husting issued a public apology for having “ignored the voice of my own conscience,” and he pledged to thenceforth travel by train between his home and office. Nonetheless, nearly 700 disenchanted donors in the Netherlands canceled their contributions to Greenpeace when they learned of what they viewed as Husting’s longstanding hypocrisy. In addition, more than 40 Greenpeace staffers signed a letter demanding that Husting resign.
operates on a $95 million annual budget that supports 28 branch offices, 2,400 employees and 15,000 volunteers around the world.
Greenpeace is heavily funded by many foundations, among which are the Bauman Family Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Columbia Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Scherman Foundation, and Ted Turner‘s Turner Foundation. The organization has also drawn support from numerous celebrities, including singers Sting, Tom Jones, and Elton John, who have sponsored its “save the rainforest” campaigns.