September 15 – Greenpeace Day

Posted on September 15, 2016

Back in the 1960s, the U.S. government wanted to test nuclear weapons underground, on the island of Amchitka in Alaska.

Nobody has lived on the island since the early 1830s, and the U.S. “owns” Alaska and therefore why was this plan making some Canadian conservationists upset?

Well, get this: Amchitka is a volcanic island, and it is known to be tectonically unstable. That means that, at any time, there could be earthquake activity there. And in the past, earthquakes near Alaska have caused destructive tsunamis.

So...doesn't it make sense that we shouldn't be blasting nuclear weapons underground there?

Some Canadians were worried that the nuclear weapon test could cause an earthquake and then a tsunami. They protested the test. A group of 7,000 people blocked a major U.S.-Canadian border crossing with a protest march. There were signs that said, “Don't Make a Wave.” And there were signs that said, “It's Your Fault If Our Fault Goes.”

The U.S. went ahead and did the test, of course. Thankfully, no earthquake nor tsunami....So then the U.S. decided to do another test – five times stronger!

Way more protest erupted. A well known conservation group, the Sierra Club Canada, was being linked to these protests because some of its members were leading the protests. And the Sierra Club didn't want to be linked to the protests. So the group sort of split off from the Sierra Club and, for the time being, named themselves the Don't Make a Wave Committee. They held a benefit concert to raise money, and they chartered a ship that they named Greenpeace to protest the nuclear test out at sea. That happened on this date in 1971.

The activists had to turn back because they faced both a U.S. Coast Guard ship and really bad weather. And the test did happen (and again, thankfully, there was no resulting earthquake and tsunami).

But the Greenpeace venture brought a lot of attention to the protest, and that brought a lot of criticism to the nuclear tests. The United States government decided to stop its testing on Amchitka.

In a way, Greenpeace – as the new organization renamed itself – lost both battles but still won the war. Since then, it has had a lot of victories and has become one of the best known environmental groups in the world.

Even though it was founded by Canadians, the center of Greenpeace is not in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The NGO has offices in more than 40 countries of the world. It works on everything from climate change and deforestation to overfishing and commercial whaling.

"Kayaktivists" in Seattle protesting
an oil rig.
Greenpeace is known for direct action – like blockades, protests, nonviolent resistance, and providing witness of others' actions in an effort to raise consciousness and cause widespread protest. The organization also does research and lobbies lawmakers.

Greenpeace has caused controversies – and the environmental organization has not been blameless in all of them. Some of the activities done by activists under the banner of “Greenpeace” have been illegal, and several times activists or even the group as a whole has ignored science and evidence in their passion to save the earth and all living things. Here are two bummers, as examples:

  • In 2014 some Greenpeace activists irreparably damaged the ancient Nazca Lines in Peru while setting up a banner within the lines of the hummingbird glyph. The area is supposed to be protected – access limited, and special shoes required – in order to prevent this sort of damage, but there is video and photographs showing that the activists were wearing normal shoes instead of the required protective shoes. The banners themselves left marks, and I wonder if one of the damaging lines was made by a vehicle used to illegally go to the site.

Apparently the Peruvian government thought that the excuses and eventual apology by Greenpeace were not sincere.

I'm thinking that the entire plan to put a banner in that spot was crazy. I mean, the ancient glyphs aren't causing any environmental harm – why put a banner there at all, why risk the possibility of damaging an ancient artifact of someone else's culture, someplace that has been deemed a UN World Heritage Site?

Peruvian responses to the Greenpeace banner
include outrage over the destruction but also the
simple point that using English for the message,
in a country with three official languages, none
of them English, shows that this message isn't
remotely intended for Peruvians.

Could it be more clear?
"We're going to use your cool place here to get
some attention - but we're not talking to you -
and we sure don't care about your culture!"

  • This year 107 Nobel laureates signed at open letter to Greenpeace urging the organization to end its protest of GMOs – genetically modified organisms. The scientific evidence show that crops and foods improved through biotechnology are as safe or even safer than other crops / foods, and GMOs are important to solving problems of hunger, certain diseases, and even environmental problems. 
Greenpeace seems to have had a history of protesting GMOs and pressuring the U.S. to follow in the European Union's footsteps of rejecting GMOs. Many people seem to be scared of genetically modified foods as if they were Frankenstein monsters, but the fears are not logic-based nor evidence-based – they're just irrational fears. 

Despite the history of Greenpeace's opposition to GMOs, the organization's official response to the letter from the Nobel laureates that there was no opposition! Wh-wh-what?

We need people who are willing to take stands, raise our consciousness of problems, and even take action to protect the environment. 

But I hope that, going forward, these actions will be legal, non-violent and non-destructive, and based on logical, evidence-based concerns!!

Also on this date:

Get Ready Day

HummerBird Celebration in Texas(September 15-18, 2016)

Plan ahead:

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