BOOKS: Greenpeace

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2005:

Greenpeace: How A Group of Ecologists,
Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World
by Rex Wyler
Rodale Press & Raincoast Books (33 East Minor
Street Emmaus, PA 18098), 2004. 623 pages,
hardcover. $25.95.

The Greenpeace Story by Michael Brown and John May
Dorling Kindersley (Out of print, but available
used from <>), 1989. 160 pages,
paperback. Includes more than 170 photographs.

Greenpeace originated in 1968 as the
Don’t Make A Wave Committee, formed by Canadian
opponents of nuclear weapons testing in Alaska
and the Pacific Ocean.
Initially most closely aligned with the
peace movement, Greenpeace evolved into the
first global front for environmental activism.
Attracting talented and committed people from all
cultures and walks of life, it predictably
fragmented and re-fragmented into offshoot
organizations and causes.

Aging into an implosion phase by the late
1990s, Greenpeace is no longer conspicuously
different in day-to-day operations and philosophy
from many other major environmental groups.
Founding members Irving Stowe, Ben Metcalfe,
David McTaggert, and Bob Hunter are now deceased.
Patrick Moore and Paul Watson are still
feuding just like old times on the Internet, 28
years after Watson left Greenpeace to found the
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, but they have
white hair now.
To activists coming of age in recent years,
Greenpeace has become just another fading
supernova, whose signature tactics long ago
became clichés.
Many books commemorating the Greenpeace
glory days tend toward fierce partisanship. This
unsurprising, since Green-peace was always a
fiercely partisan and deeply factionalized
organization or movement, with one of the
earliest and deepest divides being over which it
should become.
Watson demonstrated in Seal Wars (2003)
that his feelings about Greenpeace may never
mellow, while longtime Greenpeace staff member
Kieran Mulvaney did not even mention Watson in
The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the
Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling (also
published in 2003). Hired 12 years after Watson
departed, Mulvaney nonetheless bounced
repeatedly over his wide political wake.
Yet many of the Greenpeace old guard who
are still alive and active in various causes seem
markedly more charitable toward each other than
those who write books, in my experience of
interviewing them.
Al “Jet” Johnson, for example, speaks
well of almost everyone. He likes some former
shipmates better than others, and profoundly
disagrees with a few, but does not mingle
acknowledgement of disagreements with allegations
of moral turpitude.
Rex Weyler captures this gentler spirit
in Greenpeace: How A Group of Ecologists,
Journalists, and Visionaries Changes the World.
Weyler was the original editor of the Greenpeace
Chronicles, the newspaper that evolved into the
Greenpeace magazine of the 1980s (for which I was
briefly a Quebec correspondent), before
collapsing back into a newsletter after a
catastrophically costly attempt to publish in a
slick format on 100% post-consumer recycled stock.
Weyler apparently knew almost everyone
who helped to found and build Greenpeace, kept
his files, kept in touch with all the living,
and has produced a history that manages to be
sympathetic toward almost everyone. McTaggert
may be the sole exception, but Weyler gives even
the “Great Satan” of his account his due for many

Left animal issues

Animal advocates have long lamented that
Greenpeace under McTaggert’s influence turned
away from animal advocacy, after building
recognition and influence through confrontational
campaigns on behalf of whales and seals. This
might not have happened if Quaker cofounder
Irving Stowe had lived.
Weyler recalls that Stowe, who died of stomach
cancer in 1974, “remained a vegetarian and
refused to wear leather.”
A paragraph later, Weyler mentions that,
“Greenpeace America was established as an adjunct
to Joan McIntyre’s Project Jonah,” an early
whale-saving campaign whose theme was that whales
are fellow sentient beings.
Farther down page, Weyler recounts that
“Peter Hyde, president of the Animal Defense
League of Canada, arrived from Ottawa in
November (1974) and proposed that the Greenpeace
Foundation endorse an ‘Animal Bill of Rights,’
which included an end to trophy hunting and lab
animal abuse. Animal rights seemed as
revolutionary in 1974 as the Bill of Rights might
have seemed to King William III and Queen Mary in
1689, but Hyde cited a tradition dating from the
Buddha to aboriginal people of the 20th
centuryŠwe supported his Animal Bill of Rights.”
Greenpeace was thus positioned to emerge
after Peter Singer published Animal Liberation in
1974 as the proto-global animal rights group.
Both Watson and Moore seemed to lean in that
direction, despite their strategic differences.
Post-Watson, Moore became the most
prominent voice within Greenpeace against the
Atlantic Canadian seal hunt, until at last the
offshore hunt was suspended for 10 years
beginning in 1984.
“I left Greenpeace at the end of 1985,”
Moore told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I was always opposed
to the seal hunt and remain opposed to the
present hunt.”
Moore acknowledged that, “I went to the
Northwest Territories to meet with Inuit leaders
around 1984, to discuss the impact of our
campaign on their subsistence hunt,” but
attributed to Remi Parmentier and “perhaps
McTaggert” the Greenpeace decision to drop
anti-fur campaigning that year.
The Weyler narrative ends five years
before that infamous episode, summarized by
Michael Brown and John May in The Greenpeace
“One of the most contentious campaigns in
the history of Greenpeace,” they wrote, “was
the anti-fur campaign launched by Greenpeace U.K.
in September 1984, using a powerful poster and
cinema advert by the photographer David Bailey.
The campaign was designed to highlight the
cruelties of the leghold trap, and to dissuade
potential consumers from wearing fur. It was
soon clear that it was causing considerable
problems within Greenpeace. The offices in
Canada and Denmark had developed working
relationships with the InuitŠAfter long
deliberations, the Greenpeace International
council voted to end the fur campaign.”
Within another 10 years Greenpeace
observers at the International Whaling Commission
annual meetings would be reminded by superiors
that Greenpeace does not “in principle” oppose
whaling and sealing.
Comparison of Greenpeace by Weyler with
The Greenpeace Story by Brown and May is
inevitable. Covering half as many years in more
than three times as many pages, Greenpeace is by
far the more readable narrative, bringing the
major figures much more fully to life. Writing
at greater distance from the events, Weyler has
a better perspective on what was truly
precedental and historically important.
The Greenpeace Story on the other hand
provides a more definitive record of who did
what, where, when, with about 10 times more
photographic documentation. Both are necessary
to a complete understanding of the Greenpeace
Incidentally, on page 293 Weyler appears
to settle years of contention over who first
demonstrated the commercial potential of
“In 1907,” writes Weyler, “the Pacific
Whaling Company took up humpback whaling in the
Strait of Georgia, but met with opposition from
J.A. Cates, manager of the Vancouver Terminal
Steamship Company. Cates founded the world’s
first whale-watching tours,” nearly 60 years
before anyone else, “taking customers from
Vancouver to see the humpbacks. He argued that
the region would benefit more by keeping the
whales alive.”
Cates failed to save the Georgia Strait
humpbacks, yet his idea became the economic
mainstay of whale-saving worldwide.

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