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Greenpeace: on its origin, values, vision of the future

International environmental organization that defines itself as economically and politically independent, was founded in 1971 in Vancouver, Canada, by antinuclear activists and U.S. conscientious objectors opposed to the Vietnam War.

Greenpeace defends in its statutes direct action and pacific resistance against all types of actions that can harm the environment, natural resources and human rights.

According to the organization, their goal is “to expose environmental criminals, and to challenge government and corporations when they fail to live up to their mandate to safeguard our environment and our future.”

The confrontation tactics used by the NGO have received worldwide coverage since its foundation. Among the causes that have received the most attention from press and public opinion, they highlight:

  • Campaigns against the hunting and commercialization of whales.
  • Opposition to the hunting of seal pups.
  • Denunciation of toxic dumping worldwide.
  • Opposition to nuclear energy.
  • Campaigns against genetically modified crops.
  • In recent years, they have gained respect for their campaigns about climate change and protection of biodiversity.

Currently, the organization divides its global action into:

  • The fight about climate change through the promotion of an energy revolution.
  • The defense of oceans against indiscriminate fishing and in favor of the creation of marine reserves.
  • Protection of ancient forests.
  • Promotion of peace and the disarming of conflict zones.
  • Creation of a future free of toxic substances.
  • Promotion of sustainable agriculture.

The organization doesn’t accept economic donations from governments, political parties or businesses; it is self-financed by donations from partners and individual supporters, and with the sale of commercial products with the Greenpeace name.

From a countercultural group of the Pacific Northwest to Greenpeace International

Greenpeace was born in 1971 when a group of Canadian antinuclear activists, with the help of some Quakers and American conscientious objectors who had fled to Canada to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War, formed a small organization called “Don’t make a wave Committee”, to protest against the nuclear tests of the U.S., being carried out in territory with seismic instability.

They feared that these tests, beyond causing environmental damage, could provoke a tidal wave. As a means of protest, the group set sale on an old fishing boat toward the area where the nuclear tests were being carried out; although they didn’t, officially, have any effect, the media coverage of their action resulted in the U.S. abandoning the testing.

Since then, distinct independent groups, without connections between them, took the name of Greenpeace in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia.

David McTaggart, a retired Canadian entrepreneur and sailing aficionado, offered his sailboat to organize a protest against the nuclear tests that the French were carrying out in the Pacific in 1972 and 1973. Later, McTaggart would be president of the organization from the beginning of the 80s until 1991.

The support received for the action campaigns organized by the group set in motion the foundation of the first European offices of Greenpeace, in the United Kingdom, France and Holland. In 1978, the North American, Pacific and European branches joined to become Greenpeace International.

The organization

In 2007, Greenpeace has 2.8 million members worldwide in 40 countries.

Every national office has it’s own board, voting members and independent structure based on the individual needs and laws of its country. “These offices are part of the international organization of Greenpeace but maintain their own campaign priorities and identity.”

The main decision-making body of Greenpeace is the international board, comprised of a representative from each of the national offices, that are elected by the by each country.

They sum up their reason for being as the slogan on one of the longest banners they ever made, “When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can’t eat money…”


Greenpeace has been criticized by governments, businesses and even environmental groups for opposing reasons: the organization has been accused of being radical, lovers of a frivolous media spectacle and nonconstructive, by one side; and of having become an organization for everyone that wants to participate and condescending to the average to justify their survival, by the other side.

Among those that have criticized Greenpeace for having become a gigantic and conventional organization, is Paul Watson, a former activist who now calls Greenpeace the “Avon ladies of the environmental movement”, due to their eagerness for obtaining financing through door-to-door campaigns.

Bradley Angel, another ex-member, left the organization to found Greenaction in 1997, due to his disagreement with a series of dismissals from the American section of Greenpeace.

The directory of the Icelandic documentary, Magnus Gudmundsson (author of Survival in the High North), has focused his criticisms of Greenpeace on the social impact achieved by their campaigns against the hunting of whales and seals.

The documentary was considered defamatory by a Norwegian court and Gudmundsson had to pay a compensation to Greenpeace for damages.

The opposition of Greenpeace to the use of DDT, a synthetic pesticide that can cause cancer and is lethal to many animals and plants, has also provoked controversy, given that this synthetic substance was used to combat malaria in developing countries.

The Greenpeace campaigns against the use and expansion of genetically modified crops has received echoes from other environmentalists, like Patrick Moore, a former member of the organization.

An article published in Wikipedia elaborates on the criticisms Greenpeace has received over the years.

Campaign for green computers and electronics

In August of 2006, Greenpeace launched a campaign under the title Your Guide to Green Electronics, that established a ranking for the 14 manufacturers of computers and mobile phones, classified according to their use of toxic chemicals and their electronic waste policies.

The campaign, which since the launch of the first press release was mentioned in communications mediums like The Economist and The New York Times, inspired the manufacturers whose products had been analyzed to clean their products through the elimination of dangerous substances, as well as to become accountable for their recycling once they had become obsolete.

In the context of the campaign, Greenpeace created a website based on the design of Apple’s corporate page, below the name Green My Apple. The objective was, according to Greenpeace, to force Apple to stop using dangerous materials in their products.

Nine months after the launch of the page, Steve Jobs, C.E.O. of Apple, announced a “greener” policy for his company: A Greener Apple.

Once again, Greenpeace has published its point of view regarding those “improvements” of Apple and of the other electronics manufacturers in their use of not toxic products and the recycling of obsolete devices.