Your travel plans can save a whale.
It's the Greenpeace Cyberactivist Community. On their list of
targets right now is Icelandic whaling, and the topic of discussion
is which of them is going to join a Greenpeace ship later this
month to carry our message direct to the Icelandic government.
Numbering more than 300,000 people worldwide, our cyberspace
activists hail from 228 countries and territories, including such
unexpected bastions of international activism as Monaco and the
They become cyberactivists by signing up for a free monthly
newsletter listing online activities they can participate in; from
joining discussions at act.greenpeace.org to sending
e-cards and letters, to volunteering time or skills.
They've got a few notches in their mice, having forced
Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Finnish Foresters, and not a few governments
and UN agencies to end such environmentally destructive practices
as using climate-killing
genetically modified products, logging
in pristine ancient forests, and
permitting rust-bucket oil tankers from sailing in ecologically
They work alongside our real world activists, in their own
virtual style. While television cameras are trained on climbers
blockading a dangerously old oil tanker, a worldwide network of
connected keyboards may be pounding the ship owners or the
International Maritime Organisation with emails and faxes.
Saving whales in Iceland
Last year, we set out to prove that whales are worth more to
Iceland alive than dead. But we decided the Icelandic government
shouldn't just take our word for it. The cyberactivists mobilised
to create a different kind of petition -- a petition which is
currently worth more than $US 62 million.
We asked people to do more than sign an angry statement. We
asked them to pledge a trip to Iceland if the government stops
whaling. Iceland's tourism and whale-watching industries have
been fast-growing sectors of the economy -- and outspoken critics
of the decision to relaunch a whaling programme. Many of the people
who visit Iceland do so because they love nature, and because they
want to see whales in the wild, alive.
We wanted to prove that just as deciding to kill whales brings a
negative impact -- whale-watch bookings in Iceland for this spring
are down ten-fold over last year -- a decision to do the right
thing could bring massive goodwill. If the government would give up
whaling, we offered to promote Iceland as a tourist destination and
allow the Icelandic tourist association to do a one-time mailing to
our list of cyberactivist pledgers.
Wanted: 50,000 travellers
We wanted 50,000 people to make the pledge. We asked for
suggestions from our cyberactivists about how to get the word out.
"Bugbabe" suggested that we charter a ship to Iceland and fill it
with people who've made the pledge. This sparked against an old
idea from somebody here in our "Secret Mountain Web Laboratory":
why not run a friend-tell-a-friend contest and offer a bunk on one
of our ships as the prize for the hardest working cyberactivist? It
worked. Within a short time of announcing the competition our
numbers began to climb, and soon we had added 12,000 pledges as a
result of the challenge and met our 50,000 overall target a month
German supporters were encouraged to write directly to individuals
in Iceland letting them know how strongly they felt about whaling,
and their support for the pledge concept. By the end of the
campaign, they will have written to a quarter of the Icelandic
population. One couple wrote us that they had won a free
trip to Reykjavik on Icelandair as part of a travel agent's
promotion. But they returned the voucher to Icelandair in protest
of the whale hunt.
On average, a tourist in Iceland will spend $US 1,169 in food,
lodging, transport, and entertainment. So our 50,000 pledgers
represent more than $US 62 million in potential income. Stack that
up against the $US 3-4 million in value generated by whaling in its
heyday, and the conclusion is obvious: harming whales harms tourist
Arguments about whaling in Iceland in the past have centred on
disagreements about ethics and sustainability, and have been
charged with high emotions: nationalist patriotism and
environmentalist passion alike. The pledge reduces the argument to
an economic one, and one which we hope the Icelandic government can
listen to: whales are simply worth more to them alive than
Who will our ambassador be?
But who is going to take that message to Iceland for us? We'd
already agreed we would select the winner of our challenge from the
top ten recruiters. Of those, only five could travel on the dates
in question or had otherwise qualified for the bunk.
We sent out a questionnaire to all of them to evaluate who would
be the best choice based on ability to communicate the issue, fit
in with our crew, and best represent our cyberactivists worldwide.
But we couldn't eliminate any of our five finalists on the basis of
those criteria: they were an extraordinary group of people.
||Should we choose
Drizzt? He's a veterinarian in Spain studying to be a marine
biologist. He volunteers to protect sea turtles and helped with the
cleanup of the Prestige oil spill. He promoted the pledge by
creating a public MSN messenger account with a nickname of "I save
whales... Ask me how you can too!"
||Should we send
Lizardfish? She helped study Right Whales at sea with the Woods
Hole institute, and runs an environmental website in Bermuda which
helped stop seismic experiments which were threatening local whale
populations. Lizardfish promoted the pledge at her website, sent
impassioned messages to friends, and had a party where she spent
the evening steering people over to her computer to sign up.
Maarten? A student from Belgium, he's studying engineering in
applied biological sciences, with a specialty in forests. He has
studied the water cycle of Chilean forests, and has always dreamed
of working for Greenpeace. He promoted the pledge with his village
||And then there's
Marnee. Marnee's just finishing up a masters in Environmental
Policy. She loves rock climbing, skiing, mountain biking, hiking,
sea kayaking, and camping, and has titled her thesis "A Scathing
Indictment of George W. Bush's Environmental Policies." She
promoted the pledge with individual messages and phone calls... and
"threatened bodily harm" to anyone who didn't sign up!
||But what about
Tomakint? Google Tomakint and you'll see he's an environmental
activist in Nigeria, and he's a frequent and articulate participant
in discussions at the Greenpeace cybercentre. He travelled 170
kilometers to Lagos to put a piece of paper on a bulletin board at
a cyber-cafe -- a low-tech version of viral marketing campaign. He
also distributed an appeal to his network, but said he had some
trouble with people not believing him, since he comes from the
e-mail scam capital of the world.
We opened the question up to our cyberactivist community, looking
for their opinions about who should go
. Within days we
had more than 300 posts championing one or another candidate, and
more than a few requests to send all five.
Penny, one of our crew members, stated it best in her post:
I have been lucky enough to sail on
and off with Greenpeace for the last 4 years, and have, during that
time, come to really appreciate the great work of our cyberactivist
community. You guy's really do make a big difference. Thank
Good luck to all the finalists, I
would be honoured to sail with every one of you.
pledge to visit Iceland if the government stops whaling.