Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement…

I wrote this little polemic in 1994 after many years of fussing and fuming about the changes that had come over my beloved Greenpeace. In retrospect it seems a little harsh but it gets the point across. The essay was published in this form in Leadership Quarterly, 5(3/4), 1994

More than twenty years ago I was one of a dozen or so activists who founded Greenpeace in the basement of the Unitarian Church in Vancouver. The Vietnam war was raging and nuclear holocaust seemed closer every day. We linked peace, ecology, and a talent for media communications and went on to build the world’s largest environmental activist organization. By 1986 Greenpeace was established in 26 countries and had an income of over $100 million per year.

In 1986 the mainstream of western society was busy adopting the environmental agenda that was considered radical only fifteen years earlier. By 1989 the combined impact of Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez, the threat of global warming and the ozone hole clinched the debate. All but a handful of reactionaries joined the call for sustainable development and environmental protection.

Whereas previously the leaders of the environmental movement found themselves on the outside railing at the gates of power, they were now invited to the table in boardrooms and caucuses around the world. For environmentalists, accustomed to the politics of confrontation, this new era of acceptance posed a challenge as great as any campaign to save the planet.

For me, Greenpeace is about ringing an ecological fire alarm, waking mass consciousness to the true dimensions of our global predicament, pointing out the problems and defining their nature. Greenpeace doesn’t necessarily have the solutions to those problems and certainly isn’t equipped to put them into practice. That requires the combined efforts of governments, corporations, public institutions and environmentalists. This demands a high degree of cooperation and collaboration. The politics of blame and shame must be replaced with the politics of working together and win-win.

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