Saturday, April 5, 2008

Greenpeace at the coal face - from nukes to climate change

Greenpeace isn't on the port of Lyttelton's Christmas card list any more - if it ever was! But the charmed public image of the global environment lobby and activist group in New Zealand took a beating with a high profile attempted blockade of a "legal" shipment of coal to China late last month. This spectacular protest against the Hellenic Sea led to six arrests and ill-informed mutterings by the local establishment about Greenpeace tactics. In a Press article this weekend , Philip Matthews raised the question of whether the message about climate change is a harder sell than the old "black-and-white" issues of nuclear-testing and waste. But current Greenpeace executive director Bunny McDiarmid, who was a crew member on the original Rainbow Warrior at the time of the bombing by French state-terrorists in July 1985, reminds us about the harsh reality of back then. The RW's tactics were to try to get in the way of ships before barrels of nuclear waste could be kicked overboard. It's a shocker: back then, dumping nuclear waste was entirely legal. Greenpeace's action, both at sea and behind the scenes, were instrumental in having nuclear waste declared illegal.
"A lot of things that are considered legal today will be illegal tomorrow," she says.

I am quoted in the article about "classic Greenpeace" tactics to boost public awareness of the broader issue - in this case climate change.
In the earlier post-bombing years, Greenpeace - small, non-violent, determinedly independent in terms of not taking money from governments or corporations - was like an idealised version of New Zealand itself in the early years of the nuclear-free legislation. But the movement took a dip in membership in the 1990s as self-interest began to dominate community values. It's refreshing to see these grassroots protests making their mark.

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