For the associated 501(c)(3), see Greenpeace Fund (nonprofit)
Greenpeace is one of the most internationally recognized environmentalist organizations. It is well-known for its attention-seeking stunts and radical views. Greenpeace has also sought to actively sabotage those industries it sees as harmful to the environment.
Like most environmental organizations, Greenpeace supports legislation that would lead to cleaner air and water. It is also opposed to the use of readily available fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas. It opposes zero-emission nuclear energy. The organization is also opposed to expanding food production and nutrition by the use of genetic technology. Finally, it is opposed to deforestation and has set a goal of zero deforestation by 2020.
Greenpeace had in origins in the opposition to nuclear weapons testing off the coast of Alaska. In the 1960s, the United States was planning to test nuclear weapons under the island of Amchitka in the Aleutians. Activists in British Columbia opposed the nuclear test because they believed it could trigger earthquakes and tsunami.
The anti-nuclear activists formed a group called the Society for Pollution and Environmental Control (SPEC). In October 1969, 6,000 anti-nuclear protesters led by SPEC had shut down a U.S.-Canada border crossing near Vancouver, British Columbia. The protesters shut the border crossing down for an hour.
Later in October 1969, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) conducted the Milrow test on Amchitka. After the Milrow test, activists with SPEC and Sierra Club Canada formed the Don’t Make A Wave Committee, which took its name from the warnings they issued about a tsunami they claimed the nuclear tests would create.
The DMAW started by organizing potential allies in opposition to the nuclear test. It soon gained the backing of certain students, women’s groups, and Quakers. The first leaders were Irving Stowe, Jim Bohlen, and Paul Cote. But the group normally made decisions as a committee. This group would later become Greenpeace, named after the combination of “green” for the environment and “peace” after the anti-war movement.
Setting the stage for the future, the DMAW sought to keep a “respectable” public image, but at the same time it encouraged radicals to join. Its first major action was a joint protest with SPEC of the U.S. consulate in Vancouver. In addition to protests and a propaganda campaign against the nuclear tests, DMAW decided in January 1970 to sail a ship into the nuclear test zone to try to stop the test. The ship was called the Greenpeace. The DMAW announced its plans in newspapers and organized a concert to pay for the ship and raise money. This was the first example of “direct action” that would become a staple of Greenpeace activity.
On September 15, 1971 the Greenpeace set sail for Amchitka. The ship was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard and, due to bad weather, was forced to turn back to Canada. But the test was indefinitely postponed on September 23.
President Richard Nixon announced a November 4 deadline for the test on October 27, 1971. DMAW then tried to send a second ship, the faster Greenpeace II, into the test area. However, storms kept the ship from its destination. The nuclear test occurred on November 6, 1971. In 1972, the AEC announced that it was abandoning the rest of its planned nuclear tests on the island.
After the nuclear tests on Amchitka were over, the organization then shifted its focus to French atmospheric nuclear tests on French Polynesia. In 1973, David McTaggart sailed his yacht, which he renamed the Greenpeace II, into the French nuclear testing zone in the Pacific. The first attempt led the French Navy to deliberately ram and cripple the Greenpeace II. However, the ship was repaired and returned to the testing zone. This time it was boarded by French sailors who beat the crew, nearly blinding McTaggart. After the incident was made public, the French agreed to stop all atmospheric nuclear testing.
Greenpeace then shifted its focus to anti-whaling efforts. At the same time, more groups around the world began popping up with the name “Greenpeace.” The first anti-whaling mission set out in June 1975 when the Phyllis Cormack set sail from Vancouver. The ship encountered a Russian whaler and the activists put themselves between the Russian ship’s harpoons and the whales. In 1977, another Greenpeace ship left Hawaii and it too encountered another Russian whaler. However, there were no whales to protect so the Greenpeace activists just boarded the Russian ship and passed out Russian language anti-whaling pamphlets. In 1982, the International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling.
Greenpeace consists of Greenpeace International and 26 regional offices operating in 55 countries. Greenpeace International is headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The directors of Greenpeace International are Bunny McDiarmaid and Jennifer Morgan. Each regional office is lead by a regional executive director elected by the regional board of directors. The international office is funded by a portion of the revenue generated by each local office.
Greenpeace USA is led by executive director Annie Leonard. The U.S. Action Team is led by Nathan Santry. Its headquarters is in Washington D.C., but Leonard is based out of San Francisco.
Opposition to Fossil Fuels
Greenpeace is opposed to the use and extraction of all fossil fuels, which power most of the world. It has led protests and direct action campaigns against drilling in the Arctic. In 2015, Greenpeace activists dangled from a bridge in Portland, Oregon to protest Shell Oil’s plans to drill in the Arctic. The bridge danglers were part of a human barrier that attempted to prevent an icebreaker leased by Shell from leaving port. The icebreaker eventually did break the human blockade.
Activists have also campaigned against Arctic drilling by everyone from the Russians to the Norwegians. On September 18, 2013, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise sailed near the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform and deployed four smaller boats. Those boats were full of Greenpeace activists who tried to board the drilling platform. The three activists who did successfully board the platform were detained by the Russian coast guard. The next day, Russian authorities boarded the ship, seized control of it, and detained all crew members. The crew members were held for two months on piracy and hooliganism charges until they were released as a part of an amnesty.
In 2015, Greenpeace published a report claiming that the entire world could transition to 100% renewable technologies by 2050. In that report, Greenpeace warned that the transition towards 100% renewable energy had to be well underway by 2020 in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Its report, however, warned the cost of electricity would be higher under the plan. The report says that it would cost somewhere between $48 trillion to $64.4 trillion in order to make the investments necessary to phase out fossil fuels.
Opposition to Nuclear
Greenpeace is opposed to all uses of nuclear power. In December 2016, Greenpeace protested in front of French state-owned utility EDF. It called for France to shutter its nuclear electric generating capacity. In March, Greenpeace helped to organize protests on the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident, calling for an end to the use of nuclear power.
Opposition to Modern Agriculture
Greenpeace is opposed to modern agricultural practices and techniques such as the use of genetically modified crops. On several occasions, its members have destroyed genetically engineered crops.
In 2011, Greenpeace activists destroyed an entire crop of genetically modified wheat that was under trials in Australia. The activists broke into a farm in Canberra and used weed eaters to destroy the wheat. The activists wore hazmat suits emblazoned with the Greenpeace logo on them.
In 2009, Greenpeace protested against genetically modified corn in Mexico. The country experimented with a type of genetically modified corn that would be used for animal feed. Greenpeace activists draped anti-GMO banners on the Angel of Independence, which is one of Mexico City’s landmark monuments.
Greenpeace’s opposition to genetically modified foods has drawn criticism from the scientific community. Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace who has since left the organization, has condemned the group’s opposition to the “golden rice,” a strain of rice that is genetically enhanced to provide Vitamin A. In an interview in 2014, Moore said that his former comrades were condemning 2 million children to death. In 2016, 107 Nobel laureates signed an open letter to Greenpeace condemning its opposition to GMOs.
Greenpeace has also vocally opposed fish farming. In 2004, the Arctic Sunrise joined a flotilla of fishing and sport boats that sailed toward fish farms off the coast of British Columbia. While the Greenpeace fleet did not attempt to interfere with operations, it hoisted an anti-fish farming banner.
Greenpeace has been an opponent of modern forestry practices. It has led protests of logging operations from Canada to Poland. It has also targeted corporations that manufacture wood products. Greenpeace even protested fast food giant KFC over rainforest deforestation.
Greenpeace doesn’t just advocate on environmental issues. It has sought to tie itself to the larger progressive movement. It was among the groups pledging to “resist” President Donald Trump who also attacked Trump’s decision to approve the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
Greenpeace is also a founding member of the Democracy Alliance, which is a donors’ collaborative of progressive organizations designed to build progressive political infrastructure . It is also a member of “UnKoch My Campus,” which is designed to pressure universities to refuse donations from libertarian businessman and philanthropist Charles Koch.
The organization endorses the policies of the broader progressive left, even outside the environmental agenda. Greenpeace is also a strong opponent of voter ID laws and endorsed a renewal of the Voting Rights Act. It has also endorsed gun control laws.
Greenpeace relies on so-called direct action tactics. Although Greenpeace labels its actions “nonviolent,” these actions frequently involve the destruction of private property. Greenpeace activists have trespassed on private property on many occasions.
Greenpeace’s direct action is used to generate the attention sought for the campaign the organization is trying to achieve. The attention is then used to raise money from individuals all over the world. Greenpeace announced plans to teach activists how to “resist” the Trump administration.
Greenpeace claims it doesn’t receive funding from corporations or governments. Instead, it relies donations from foundations and individuals. The organization does not have a political action committee (PAC).
Charity Navigator awards Greenpeace just 2 out of 4 stars. In 2015, Greenpeace USA raised $17,099,993 and spent $16,572,109.
Among the donors to Greenpeace are major progressive foundations such as the Tides Foundation, which has donated at least $250,000 to the group. In October 2014, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation donated $2 million. The Oak Foundation also paid Greenpeace Canada an undisclosed sum to advocate against oil and gas exploration in Canada. In 2013, the Park Foundation donated an undisclosed sum to fund “opposition research” regarding fracking.