20 years ago this week, Greenpeace activists, including the former executive director of Greenpeace Germany, Thilo Bode, were arrested on a bridge and locked up in jail. The reason for the arrest was that they were taking part in a peaceful protest against the clear-cutting of Canada’s precious Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island. The activists had put themselves front and centre on the logging road and refused to leave. The protest was a highlight of the months of protests to protect the Sound and inspiration for forest campaigns to follow around the world.
Did this protest accomplish something? Less than six weeks ago, I again traveled together with my Canadian colleague Eduardo Sousa, into the coastal temperate rainforests of British Columbia, Canada. This time into the Great Bear Rainforest which is north of Clayoquot Sound, and the site of the 2nd war in the woods in the rainforest. We wanted to walk through the areas being protected by the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement and the traditional territories of several First Nations communities.
Greenpeace has been campaigning since1993 for the protection of the coastal rain forests on Canada's west coast. And with success: The intact areas of the Sound were given a reprieve from logging (though still not legislatively protected) and since 2006 large areas of the Great Bear Rainforest have been protected from destructive logging. The rest of the forest is being managed under a system of more ecologically minded forestry, called ecosystem based management. And governments, community leaders, environmental organizations and logging companies are working collaboratively to further the well-being of the people who live and depend on the forest.
This decision of the British Columbian provincial government to protect the forest, was preceded by a nearly a decade long campaign by Greenpeace and other NGOs. We protested against clearcutting in Canada, but also, importantly, in Germany. We protested for weeks before the offices of the major publishing houses who were using paper from the rainforest. We called on the likes of publisher Gruner + Jahr not to use paper from rainforest destruction. They finally sat down and joined with other publishers to advocate for an end to the war in the woods and the protection of the forest.
While I roamed in the rainforest several weeks ago, in the pouring rain, I thought about those who protested and advocated for the protection of this forest and Clayoquot Sound year ago. They were willing to go to jail for weeks or months to see their goals through.
While I gaze on the giant cedars of the rainforest forest and speak with community leaders about some of the ongoing problems or emerging threats to the forest and I remember the long-standing commitment of many people at Greenpeace for the protection of the environment, I am happy and proud at the lengths that we will go to save these wild places, even if it takes decades. And then it reached me, during my trip in late September, the shocking news that 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists were arrested by Russian police on the high seas. Only because they had protested peacefully against drilling by Gazprom in the high Arctic. They were even shot at! I was stunned. And I began to compare the two events: In Canada, many years of protest for the protection of forests. Many people were arrested and went to jail – just because they blocked a road to save a forest. And later, in the end, the logging was stopped and the forests were protected. It took a long time. In the Arctic: Another peaceful protest, arrests for approaching an oil platform in a remote place in the world, and now in prison now for 6 weeks and counting. I really hope that this peaceful protest by these activists will one day contribute to saving one of the last places left on Earth largely free from industrial development. And that their work leads to it becoming a world park for whole of humanity.
Twenty years ago, as is the case now, it was the individual action of those that care for the planet, that act for the planet, which leas to a change in thinking. Radical at the time, it worked for the rainforests of Canada.
I hope to be able to say this at some point for the Arctic as well.
Oliver Salge is the head of the oceans and forests campaign at Greenpeace Germany. During his visit to the Great Bear Rainforest, a spirit bear magically appeared to thank him for his years of work.