Deep Green: The Greenpeace Manifesto

Background - September 10, 2009
Readers have asked if there exists a Greenpeace founding manifesto of original aims and principles. The 'Greenpeace Declaration of Interdependence', published in our newspaper in 1976 is a candidate,but this statement appeared five years after the original campaign, and several statements of purpose had already appeared between 1970-1976.

No single founding manifesto

Unlike the Sierra Club or Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace was not founded at a single moment by a single articulated vision. Greenpeace evolved from an ad hoc citizen's group, the 'Don't Make a Wave Committee'. Eventually, several statements of purpose merged in to a simple idea.

In 1969, when the United States announced a nuclear bomb test on Amchitka Island in the Bering Sea, peace and ecology organisations in Vancouver, Canada, responded to stop the bomb test. Sierra Club members, including Irving and Dorothy Stowe, organised demonstrations with a new ecology action group, SPEC, including Bob and Zoe Hunter.(SPEC originally meant 'Scientific Pollution and Environmental Control Society'; the acronym has remained the same since, although the name has changed. This organisation still performs important environmental work in Vancouver.)

Bob Hunter wrote 'Don't Make a Wave' on a demonstration placard, in reference to a possible tsunami caused by the bomb test. Irving Stowe borrowed this slogan for the 'Don't make a Wave Committee', to stop the bomb test. Although not a formal committee of the Sierra Club, when Stowe's colleague Jim Bohlen announced the plan to sail a boat into the test site, he described it as a Sierra Club action. But the US Sierra Club had not authorised the campaign, so the 'committee' eventually became it's own organisation with British Columbia, Canada, non-profit status.

The group chartered a fishing boat, renamed Greenpeace, a name coined by member Bill Darnell, uniting the peace and ecology movements. After the first campaign, journalists Hunter and Ben Metcalf thought that 'Greenpeace' made for a better name than 'Don't Make a Wave Committee', so in May 1972 the organisation changed its name to 'The Greenpeace Foundation'. This founding process took two years; thus there exists no 'founding manifesto', although between 1971 and 1976 statements did appear that showed what the founders envisioned.

"Greenpeacing America"

On board the Greenpeace boat in 1971, Metcalfe called CBC radio and made a statement that serves perhaps as the first unofficial founding manifesto:

"We call our ship the Greenpeace because that's the best name we can think of to join the two great issues of our times, the survival of our environment and the peace of the world. Our goal is a simple, clear, and direct one - to bring about a confrontation between the people of death and the people of life. We do not consider ourselves to be radicals. We are conservatives, who insist upon conserving the environment for our children and future generations. If there are radicals in this story, they are the fanatical technocrats who believe they have the power to play with this world like an infinitely fascinating toy.

The message of the Greenpeace is this: The world is our place. And we insist on our basic human right to occupy it without danger from any power group. This is not a rhetorical presumption on our part. It is a sense and idea that we share with every ordinary citizen of the world."

Meanwhile, Irving Stowe wrote a weekly column in the local underground newspaper, The Georgia Strait, called 'Greenpeace is Beautiful':

"We can end our surrender to this death-oriented government and industry by massive non-acceptance of the"values" and non-cooperation with their structures ('defence', consumer economy, co-opting mass media ... ). We can then devote our bodies and our time working cooperatively to meet our real needs … The present system threatens our survival now and, if not detoxified, will destroy us. This system cannot be reformed by trying to operate within its rules. … We must accept the responsibility for creating new institutions - political, cultural, economic - which encourage people to live creatively and in harmony with the environment."

Storming of the Mind

In the early 1970s, Bob Hunter wrote a column in the Vancouver Sun,in which he discussed the emerging environmental awareness. "All along I have believed that ecology is a bridge of green, spanning not only the generation gap but the gap between workers and students, left and right, rich and poor." Hunter established the 'Greenpeace Whole Earth Church' and drafted a manifesto:

"We believe that the Earth is One. When the land is degraded, so is the air and water… the insects … crustaceans… people. … Any form of life which goes against the natural laws of inter-relatedness and inter-dependency has fallen from the State of Grace known as ecological harmony.

The Whole Earth Church believes that all forms of life possess some degree of consciousness. Members of the Whole Earth Church are asked only to assume their rightful role as Custodians of the Earth. The Whole Earth Church has no hierarchy. Only ministers. Every member is a minister. Every minister is a Custodian of the Earth. With absolute responsibility for its preservation."

Hunter would 'zap' new members with a finger to the middle of the forehead, ordaining them as protectors of the Earth. These antics were activist theatre, making social revolution fun - but his humour masked a deep seriousness about ecology.

Hunter's book, The Storming of the Mind (1971, McClelland& Stewart) became a defacto 'manifesto', merging peace, ecology,'post-industrialism', and media strategy into a vision of cultural transformation. "The critical problems which now threaten our existence can only be understood in terms of gestalts, wholes, flows, or synergistic effects," he wrote. "The new holistic consciousness is basically an ecological consciousness."

Declaration of Interdependence

In 1975, after the first Greenpeace whale campaign, we launched an organisation newspaper, the Greenpeace Chronicles. The following year, we published the 'Greenpeace Declaration of Interdependence', the earliest formal Greenpeace manifesto.

The term 'Declaration of Interdependence' had been used by Ecology Action founder Cliff Humphrey in an essay (with 52 signatures) in the September 1969 Whole Earth Catalogue, and poet Gary Snyder had used the expression in conversation. We adapted the 'Three Laws of Ecology' from Barry Commoner's The Closing Circle(Knopf, 1971). We discussed this manifesto in coffee shops and on street corners. Bob Hunter wrote this version, although we published it without citing an author.

Greenpeace Declaration of Interdependence, 1976

"We have arrived at a place in history where decisive action must be taken to avoid a general environmental disaster. With nuclear reactors proliferating and over 900 species on the endangered list, there can be no further delay or our children will be denied their future.

The Greenpeace Foundation hopes to stimulate practical, intelligent actions to stem the tide of planetary destruction. We are 'rainbow people' representing every race,every nation, every living creature. We are patriots, not of any one nation, state or military alliance, but of the entire Earth.

It must be understood that the innocent word 'ecology' contains a concept that is as revolutionary as anything since the Copernican breakthrough,when it was discovered that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. Through ecology, science has embarked on a quest for the great systems of order that underlie the complex flow of life on our planet. This quest has taken us beyond the realm of traditional scientific thought. Like religion, ecology seeks to answer the infinite mysteries of life itself. Harnessing the tools of logic, deduction,analysis, and empiricism, ecology may prove to be the first true science-religion.

As suddenly as Copernicus taught us that the earth was not the centre of the universe, ecology teaches us that mankind is not the centre of life on this planet. Each species has its function in the scheme of life.

Ecology has taught us that the entire Earth is part of our 'body' and that we must learn to respect it as much as we respect ourselves. As we love ourselves, we must also love all forms of life in the planetary system- the whales, the seals, the forests, and the seas. Ecological thought shows us a pathway back to an understanding of the natural world - an understanding that is imperative if we are to avoid a total collapse of the global ecosystem.

Ecology has provided us with many insights. These may be grouped into three 'Laws of Ecology,'which hold true for all forms of life - fish, plants, insects,plankton, whales, and humans. These laws may be stated as follows:

First Law of Ecology:All forms of life are interdependent. The prey is as dependent on the predator for the control of its population as the predator is on the prey for a supply of food.

Second Law of Ecology:the stability (unity, security, harmony, togetherness) of ecosystems is dependant on diversity (complexity). An ecosystem that contains 100 different species is more stable than an ecosystem that has only three species. Thus the complex tropical rain forest is more stable than the fragile arctic tundra.

Third Law of Ecology:all resources (food, water, air, minerals, energy) are finite and there are limits to the growth of all living systems. These limits are finally dictated by the finite size of the Earth and the finite input of energy from the sun.

If we ignore the logical implications of these Laws of Ecology, we will continue to be guilty of crimes against the earth. We will not be judged by men for these crimes, but with a justice meted out by the Earth itself. The destruction of the Earth will lead, inevitably, to the destruction of ourselves.

So let us work together to put an end to the destruction of the Earth by the forces of human greed and ignorance. Through an understanding of the principles of ecology, we must find new directions for the evolution of human values and human institutions. Short-term economics must be replaced with actions based on the need for conservation and preservation of the entire global ecosystem. We must learn to live in harmony, not only with our fellow humans, but with all the beautiful creatures on this planet."

If some of the language sounds dated, the ideas are even more urgent now. Ecology has often been lost in human-centred political expediency,but the laws of biology, physics, and energy exchange endure. We are not the centre of life on Earth, 1970 or 2070. We are a bloom of life that has unwittingly altered its habitat. Learning to live as a part of nature remains our biggest challenge.

 - Rex Weyler

You can respond to "Deep Green" columns at my Ecolog, where I post portions of this column and dialogue with readers.