To tell the full story of the last 50 years since Greenpeace first set sail would take more than a single issue of Compass can hold. Yet I hope what you see in these pages gives you a glimpse of how much we’ve changed the world. Because together, we have.
Thanks to millions like you who make Earth and all the life we share it with a priority concern, Greenpeace has amassed considerable people power through the decades, rising up as a unified force to challenge systems of power and privilege that destroy the environment. Together we’ve won hundreds of victories for people, wildlife, and the planet—wins both big and small, and some history-making, too.
Greenpeace has literally gone to the ends of the Earth in our campaigning. Every day Greenpeace ships are out there somewhere, bearing witness, documenting the state of our planet and contributing to science, and showing the world what’s happening to catalyze change. That work is amplified by Greenpeace campaigners, volunteers, activists, media specialists, issue experts, researchers, investigators, strategists, and people like you all over the world who sign petitions and write letters, send emails, make phone calls, post online, and show up, speak up, and get active.
Today, we have grown from that first handful of activists who co-founded Greenpeace in 1971 to an international network with organizations in more than 55 countries, but our spirit and our mission remain the same.
Science informs the positions we take on environmental issues, getting to the heart of what people, wildlife, and the planet need to be healthy. Our campaigns plot the most direct course from where we are now to where we need to be for a sustainable world. And we connect people with the many ways they can make a difference, and we add strength to our movement with coalition-building and skill shares and trainings.
From the outset, Greenpeace has been fiercely independent, never accepting corporate or government money to ensure we’re free of the corrupting influence of political and commercial interests. It’s people like you who power Greenpeace and will take us to our next victories for Earth and all of us, and we couldn’t be more grateful you’re at our side. Thank you!
In 1971, a small group of activists set sail from Vancouver to the Amchitka island off the coast of Alaska to try and stop a U.S. nuclear weapons test. They named the rickety old fishing boat The Greenpeace. This is where our story officially begins.
But before that founding voyage, activists Jim and Marie Bohlen had met a Quaker couple, Irving and Dorothy Stowe, at an anti-war march in 1967. They found shared interests in the peace movement and a number of local environmental battles, and Irving introduced the Bohlens to the Quaker belief in “bearing witness” as a form of peaceful protest and registering opposition with one’s presence.
In 1970, together with a law student and expert sailor named Paul Cote, Jim and Irving formed the Don’t Make a Wave Committee with the sole purpose of stopping the Amchitka nuclear blast.
Inspired by Quakers who tried to sail a ship in the South Pacific to stop atmospheric testing of H-bombs in the late 1950s, Marie suggested, “Why not sail a boat up there and confront the bomb?” A few weeks later, the group had a plan. “If the Americans want to go ahead with the test,” Jim said, “they’ll have to tow us out.”
Leaving one of those heady first meetings, Irving flashed the peace sign, as was his custom, and said “Peace.” On that occasion, ecologist Bill Darnell made the off-hand reply, “Make it a green peace.”
And Greenpeace was born.
The Amchitka Concert
We had our name, but it was soon clear that selling 25-cent buttons wouldn’t bring in the cash needed to pay for a boat. Someone had the idea to put up a rock concert. A few phone calls later, Irving organized the benefit with the help of Joan Baez. Although she couldn’t be there herself, Joan put Irving in touch with Joni Mitchell, who said she would be playing. Chilliwack and Phil Ochs also confirmed, and Joni called again to say she would also bring a special guest, James Taylor. None of them wanted any money for the night.
“The concert was a sell-out, the biggest counter-culture event of the year,” Rex Weyler recalls in his Greenpeace biography. The sixteen thousand that filled Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum left the concert entranced.
By the end of October 1970, the group had raised more than $23,000. Greenpeace was ready to go.
The boat left the harbor at dusk on September 15, 1971, with a green triangular sail hoisted carrying the peace and ecology symbols. After almost two years of planning and hard work, the first Greenpeace mission was finally underway—the first in what would become a long series of inspiring expeditions at sea over the next 50 years.
Twelve people were on board, including journalists and a photographer recording events of the journey and sending reports to radio stations and newspapers back home. Bob Hunter was a key figure among them, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun who had written passionately about the Amchitka nuclear tests and excelled at garnering media attention to the voyage.
Unfortunately, The Greenpeace was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard before it even got close to the Amchitka testing site.
Failure looks different than it felt to the crew at the time, however. The Amchitka voyage sparked a flurry of public interest. The media went wild about the small group of activists who had sailed off in the face of great adversity—the first “media mind bomb,” as Bob Hunter conceived of those early Greenpeace actions, had been launched.
The beginning of a much bigger story
“As it turned out, all my angst was unnecessary,” Bob later wrote. “Time has proven my post-trip despair to be utterly mistaken. The trip was a success beyond anybody’s wildest dreams.”
The nuclear bomb the group had come to stop went off, but the tests planned for after that were cancelled. Five months after Greenpeace’s founding voyage, the U.S. stopped the entire Amchitka nuclear test program. The island was later declared a bird sanctuary.
Amchitka, it turned out, was only the beginning of what would come to be a much bigger story.
Greenpeace has been sailing the world’s oceans for 50 years protecting our planet and fighting for environmental justice. From obstructing nuclear tests in the Pacific to documenting plastics in our oceans; from conducting research into the effects of climate change in the Arctic to stopping shiploads of illegal timber leaving the Amazon; from bringing humanitarian relief to communities devastated by extreme weather to collaborating with local authorities to arrest illegal fishing operations in West Africa—our ships are fundamental to Greenpeace campaigns.
It’s people that really make the fleet the powerful campaign tools that they are, though. Our crews, who come from all over the world and from all ways of life, spend long periods of time away from home taking action and supporting communities on the front line of environmental destruction. And our supporters, people who donate their time and money, make it all possible.
The Rainbow Warrior is an undisputed icon in the fleet, named after a North American Cree Indian prophecy: “When the world is sick and dying, the people will rise up like Warriors of the Rainbow …” Synonymous with breaking boundaries and fearless campaigning, Greenpeace has sailed with the name Rainbow Warrior since 1978.
You can’t sink a Rainbow
In 1985, French secret service agents, under orders from their government, planted two bombs and sank the Rainbow Warrior, killing one crew member. Greenpeace replaced the ship with a new vessel, and for 22 years the second Rainbow Warrior campaigned all over the world for a green and peaceful future before being retired from Greenpeace life.
The current Rainbow Warrior is the first ship in our fleet designed and built specifically for Greenpeace. The vessel is one of the most environmentally-friendly ships ever made, built of mostly sustainable materials, with huge sails, and a super-efficient diesel engine for when the wind isn’t powering it. The ship is equipped with a helicopter deck, state-of-the-art communications capabilities, and room for 30 crew.
Ironically, before Greenpeace started using the Arctic Sunrise it was once a sealing vessel. Greenpeace had previously confronted the ship while it was delivering equipment for the French government to build an airstrip through a penguin habitat in the Antarctic to exploit its oil and mineral reserves. The ship’s first contact with Greenpeace was in 1986 in Tasmania, when a volunteer scaled the mast, unfurled the Greenpeace flag, and locked himself in the crow’s nest.
Since 1996 the Arctic Sunrise, originally designed as an icebreaker, has come within reach of both poles and navigated both the Amazon and Congo rivers. Because the ship has a rounded, keelless bottom, it is perfectly-suited for icy seas.
Esperanza (Spanish for “hope”) is the first Greenpeace ship to be named by visitors to our website. Built in Gdansk, Poland, in 1984 the Esperanza was used by the Russian Navy as a fire-fighting ship. At 236.2 feet, with a top speed of 15 knots, Esperanza is ideal for fast and long-range work like chasing the Japanese whaling fleet. It is equipped with a first-class communications system and its ice-class status makes it suitable for work in the polar regions.
After chartering Esperanza in early 2002, Greenpeace spent many months refitting it to the highest possible environmental standards. Esperanza now sails as a proud example of a truly “green” ship.
“The biggest highlights [of joining Greenpeace’s ship tour] have just been connecting with the crew. Y’all are crazy in the best way possible. … I only speak from a place of transparency and honesty and integrity always, and I can tell you that I will be not only devoting a large percentage of my personal money to this organization, but also my time. And as a reminder, because this is really important to note, Greenpeace takes no corporate or government money. Go to their website and find out how you can volunteer. And I think that once you do that, you will be hooked.”
— Shailene Woodley
They might not be our biggest vessels but they are often our most effective tools at sea—our inflatable boats. For getting between a whaling harpoon and whales, stopping toxic waste dumping at sea, and confronting illegal fishing boats, they have no equal. Often called “Zodiacs,” technically our inflatables are Rigid Inflatable Boats or RIBs. To our crew who drive them, they are just inflatables.
The A.E. Bates Thermal Airship
We launch this puppy when it’s time to make a big, loud, unmissable point. Just don’t call it a blimp. This thermal airship is named in honor of the late Mr. A.E. Bates. Mr. Bates gave over 25,000 hours of volunteer service to Greenpeace USA.
The Rolling Sunlight
This portable solar power installation is not just about touring the country to show off the capabilities of solar power (which it does). It’s also about providing much needed clean energy, like Greenpeace did in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when the Rolling Sunlight was on the scene providing power to the relief effort.
Hot Air Balloons
Over the years hot air balloons have played a lead role in several memorable Greenpeace actions around the world, and Greenpeace USA’s One World Balloon carries on that tradition. The balloon gives Greenpeace a new, higher, vantage point and can send a message high in the sky.
A Few Iconic Moments in a Half Century of Campaigning for a Green and Peaceful Future
From the outset, with the founding voyage to peacefully protest U.S. nuclear testing off the coast of Alaska, the issue has been part of Greenpeace’s story. We’ve long born witness to the disastrous impacts of nuclear testing on people and the environment.
In 1985 the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior set sail to help members of the Rongelap community relocate away from their home island in the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific to escape contamination from a round of U.S. nuclear testing done years earlier.
From Rongelap we sailed to New Zealand. The Rainbow Warrior was supposed to lead a flotilla of boats sailing east to Moruroa in French Polynesia, where the French authorities were doing their nuclear testing. But our Rainbow Warrior never made it to Moruroa, damaged beyond repair in the bombing carried out by French secret service agents. However, an even bigger flotilla did sail to the Pacific to protest the nuclear testing. And a new Rainbow Warrior returned to the Pacific many times, until the testing was stopped in 1996.
Full-scale nuclear testing has largely come to a halt thanks to people who stood up, and kept standing up, in the thousand different ways it takes to change the course of history.
“Whenever I meet people from Greenpeace, whenever I get to walk the walk with people from Greenpeace, I can see the passion in their action, in their eyes, and it’s inspiring.” — Manny Jacinto
Save the Whales
In 1975 Greenpeace set sail on our first voyage to stop the slaughter of whales. Two ships left Vancouver displaying the United Nations flag and a newly adapted symbol for the campaign, the Kwakiutl People’s orca crest. Some 23,000 people gathered to cheer them off.
About 50 miles off the coast of Eureka, California, the crew spotted two Soviet whaling ships. They jetted out on a Zodiac to document a dead sperm whale that on closer sight, horrifyingly, turned out to be just a calf. The whaler’s harpoon boat came speeding straight at the Zodiac, threatening to blast it with a high-pressure hose.
Then in an epic confrontation with the giant factory ship butchering whales, two inflatable boats zoomed around it with photographers filming the whales being fed into the ship’s bowels and blood gushing from an outlet in the hull.
On the deck of the Greenpeace ship, the crew brought out their guitars and sang anti-whaling songs to the shocked Soviet whalers, then turned loudspeakers up full blast to play them tape recordings of whale songs.
From there the ship took off after another harpoon boat, launching Zodiacs and racing to position the inflatables between the harpoon guns and the whales. Harpoons fired just over their heads and the cable lashed down only five feet away, killing the whale when the grenade on the end of the spear detonated.
The confrontation was all captured on film and soon became famous the world over. “For the first time in the history of whaling,” the New York Times reported, “human beings put their lives on the line for whales.” And it would be the first, but not the only time we did—intrepid Greenpeace activists kept at it for many years.
Finally, in 1982 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) issued a moratorium on commercial whaling that came into effect in 1986. Years later, in another victory for these majestic ocean giants, in 1994 the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary was approved by the IWC.
“If I could describe Greenpeace in one word, it would be active. I feel like Greenpeace is everywhere, and if you’re not involved, it’s on you, because they’re sort of waiting for you to come running into their arms.” — Piper Perabo
Creating World Park Antarctica
In the early 1980s governments and corporations were eyeing Antarctica, eager to exploit its delicate ecosystem to explore for oil and mineral deposits under the ice. Greenpeace launched a campaign to make Antarctica a “World Park” but rules dictated that we would have to set up a permanent base on the ice if we were to have a voice at the Antarctic Treaty table. Only a base would allow us to challenge national territorial claims with an argument that Antarctica should be preserved as a global commons—belonging to no one.
No non-governmental organization had ever set up a base in Antarctica, and there were many obstacles, both political and practical. Weather halted our first attempt to reach the extremely remote frozen region, but in 1987 the Greenpeace moored in the Antarctic and a few weeks later our World Park Base was operational. The intrepid Greenpeace pioneers stayed from 1987 to 1991.
“I’m so happy Fire Drill Fridays has become a project in the arms of Greenpeace. They’re such a brave, brave organization.” — Jane Fonda
The team monitored pollution from neighboring bases and held other nations accountable for their actions. Greenpeace made headlines when 15 protesters blocked the French from building an airstrip at Dumont D’Urville. The construction work was controversial because it involved dynamiting habitats of nesting penguins. French scientists even admitted an airstrip violated terms of the Antarctic Treaty.
The professionalism of our operation gradually earned respect from other Antarctic Treaty Nations. After seven years of campaigning, Greenpeace went from being perceived as an almost despised outsider in Antarctic Treaty affairs to being a respected player in negotiations for the future of the continent.
We successfully convinced world leaders to believe in the dream of having Antarctica protected as a World Park, and in 1991 the members of the Antarctic Treaty agreed to adopt a new Environmental Protocol, including a 50-year minimum prohibition on all mineral exploitation.
Defending the Tongass National Forest
Greenpeace has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect rare temperate rainforests of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. From lawsuits, to road blockades, and visits by Greenpeace ships we have battled over decades Greenpeace to keep one of the last great wild places on the planet safe for us and future generations.
“Greenpeace is the angel energy of planet Earth, to protect her and respect her and give her life force again. That’s what Greenpeace is.” — Rosanna Arquette
At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is a crown jewel of public lands in the United States. Covering much of the Alaska panhandle in southeast Alaska, the Tongass is a land of old growth forests, mountains, glaciers, and salmon-rich rivers. On the traditional lands of many Native Alaskan nations, it stores an incredible amount of carbon and is filled with bountiful and unique wildlife – including the largest population of bald eagles in the world!
Unfortunately, this critical part of our natural heritage has come under relentless attack from logging companies, other extractive industries, and the politicians in their pockets. The biggest fights have been over protection, or destruction of the last bigger, older forests. Continued industrial logging in the Tongass not only scars the landscape as it removes trees as old as 800 years, but its boom and bust business model is bad for the local economy. There are many more businesses that depend on a standing forest for things like salmon fishing and recreation, than taxpayer-subsidized logging. Dead-end industrial logging also destroys the forest’s ability to sequester carbon, house wildlife, and sustain continued traditional uses by Native Alaskans.
Luckily, Greenpeace and allies are not giving up and the vast majority of Americans are on our side. Through so many legal challenges, destructive agency decisions, and toxic presidential actions aimed at undermining the Tongass, we have countered short-sighted old-growth logging to help conserve the last, best temperate rainforest in the world.
“I would describe Greenpeace as restorative.” — June Diane Raphael
The Arctic 30
In September 2013 Greenpeace travelled to the Russian Arctic on board the ship Arctic Sunrise to stage a peaceful protest against Gazprom’s plans to start oil production at Prirazlomnaya—the first offshore rig built in ice-covered Arctic waters.
The authorities responded to the protests by dispatching Russian commandos to seize the Greenpeace ship in international waters and towing it to Murmansk, where 28 crew members and two journalists—the Arctic 30—were remanded in custody for two months. They were eventually released on bail and later granted amnesty.
The Arctic Sunrise itself was returned to Greenpeace after nine months at port in Murmansk, having suffered considerable damage during the arrest and subsequent detention inside the Arctic Circle. Inflatable boats and other equipment had also sustained serious damage.
After regaining their freedom, the Arctic 30 filed complaints with the European Court in Strasbourg, arguing they had been detained unlawfully and their right to freedom of expression had been breached. The Government of the Netherlands also filed a case of its own before another international tribunal, asserting that the seizure of the Arctic Sunrise—which flies the Dutch flag—and those on board had breached the rights of the Netherlands under the international law of the sea.
“It’s a great organization. I’ve been familiar with their work for a long time. I love their attitude, their willingness to take it to the powers that be. I’m a huge supporter, huge fan.” — Mary Trump
The People v. Shell—Save the Arctic
Together, we helped force one of the world’s most powerful oil companies to leave the Arctic and moved the Obama administration to close the door to Arctic oil drilling for years. Shell had billions of dollars and an army of lawyers, but Greenpeace had millions of passionate people prepared to do whatever it takes to protect our planet. And we were everywhere.
Protesters flooded Seattle Port Commission hearings throughout 2015 to show unyielding opposition to Shell using the city’s port terminal to prepare for its Arctic drilling operation. Even the mayor of Seattle came out against Shell, citing that the terminal that Shell had leased isn’t licensed for oil rigs, but rather cargo only. In meetings throughout the spring, Seattleites stayed for hours, voicing concern that their city was being used as a launching pad for Shell’s dangerous and potentially tragic hunt for oil in the Arctic.
In April 2015, six brave individuals intercepted Shell’s gigantic Arctic oil drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer. The Greenpeace climbers boarded the Arctic-bound rig in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 750 miles northwest of Hawaii, and scaled a 38,000-ton platform for the action. They remained for six days, drawing attention and support from around the world.
Then in May, Seattle made history when hundreds of community members organized and joined the Paddle in Seattle. Activists swarmed Puget Sound in kayaks and boats to surround Shell’s drilling rig that was stationed in Seattle on its way north to join oil drilling operations in the Arctic. Kayaks became an international symbol of the fight against oil drilling in the Arctic, with the term “kayaktivist” catching on to describe the floating protesters. On June 15, many of these same kayaktivists put themselves directly between the Polar Pioneer and the Arctic in a floating blockade as the rig left Seattle.
“If I were to describe Greenpeace in a word, it would be rebellious.” — Brooklyn Decker
Also in June, Native American women in the Washington state area organized a rally in Seattle on land and in traditional canoes in a strong and beautiful showing of solidarity for native communities in the Alaskan Arctic who have been fighting Shell’s oil drilling plans for years.
In August, activists rappelled off St. John’s Bridge in Portland, Oregon in the middle of the night to create an aerial blockade preventing an icebreaker essential to Shell’s drilling operations from reaching the Arctic. The climbers hung from the bridge for two days and were joined by local kayaktivists who took to the water to help prevent the vessel from passing. The whole world was watching Portland for those 40 hours, making for one of the most inspiring and picturesque moments in activism in recent history.
Thousands of people took to the streets and rallied on land and water worldwide, millions signed petitions and letters, jammed the White House phone lines, hosted house parties for writing letters to the editor, and participated in Greenpeace’s #ShellNo Day of Action. Acclaimed British actor and screenwriter Emma Thompson helped pull a mammoth polar bear puppet the size of a double-decker bus outside London’s Shell headquarters to deliver demands from seven million people calling for an end to Arctic drilling.
And together, we won. Every voice mattered. Each action worked.
“Greenpeace to me are warriors.” — Paul Scheer
Plastic Monsters Head Home to Nestlé
Something amazing happened in March and April 2019. Plastic monsters came to life around the world, rising up from dirty landfills, climbing over piles of trash, and even swimming up and out of seas, lakes, and rivers to make long and sometimes arduous journeys back home to their source—Nestlé.
The company was named one of the worst plastic polluters after Greenpeace’s beach cleanups and brand audits of plastic waste around the world in 2018. In response, our plastic monsters all over the world highlighted the impact of Nestlé’s contribution to the plastic pollution crisis.
A huge plastic monster, more than 65 feet long and covered in Nestlé’s plastic waste, appeared in the Netherlands in late March. From there it journeyed by boat toward Switzerland, stopping by a few cities in Europe as it traveled up the Rhine through Germany and France. The plastic monster especially thrilled crowds in Cologne, Germany, before arriving home at Nestlé’s global headquarters in Switzerland.
Activists from the Break Free From Plastic movement delivered a plastic monster serpent along with an “invoice from the Filipino people” to Nestlé headquarters in the Philippines outlining the costs of Nestlé’s single-use plastic packaging pollution.
Greenpeace activists crashed Nestlé’s Annual General Meeting to demand that the company end its reliance on single-use plastic, and invest immediately in alternative delivery systems based on refill and reuse. And Greenpeace Italy activists protested at the San Pellegrino plant, one of the main brand properties of Nestlé.
On April 16, plastic monsters showed up with Greenpeace activists at Nestlé offices and factories all around the world—from Nairobi, Kenya, to Toronto, Canada, to Ljubljana, Slovenia, and more. In the U.S., Greenpeace activists delivered a plastic monster to Nestlé’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
These plastic monsters called out a very serious crisis—the many communities, especially in Southeast Asia, which are being overwhelmed by the world’s plastic waste—and demanded action from the corporations that created and profit from the problem.
As we begin the next chapter in Greenpeace’s story, our campaigning has never been more urgent, with the existential threats of climate breakdown and the extinction crisis.
We’re in the last decade to keep global warming from skyrocketing past the 1.5°C rise we cannot exceed without triggering catastrophic consequences. It’s imperative that we end the era of coal, oil and gas and transition to 100% renewable energy in a way that puts justice for working people and vulnerable communities at the center of the transition to a clean and prosperous future.
Stabilizing the climate and conserving wildlife means we urgently need to end the destruction of our great global forests and protect the world’s oceans—both vital to storing vast amounts of carbon and generating the oxygen we need to survive.
Greenpeace is campaigning to preserve the rainforests of the Amazon and Indonesia that are being burned to the ground and bulldozed for short-term corporate profit. Huge swathes of forestland are being razed for commodities like beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp wood and paper, in addition to logging and mining. We are urging companies to stop doing business with any suppliers responsible for forest and human rights abuses. The survival of critically endangered animals like orangutans, tigers, and Sumatran elephants depends on it.
And we have a bold rescue plan for Earth’s oceans, mapping out how we can cover our blue planet with sanctuaries protecting at least 30% of the high seas by 2030, which the science tells us we must do in order to mitigate climate impacts and conserve marine life. The Arctic is of particular concern, as climate change has already removed at least 75% of Arctic summer sea ice volume at rates never before experienced in human history. Soon, the Arctic Ocean will be like other oceans for much of the year: open water that is exposed to exploitation and environmental destruction.
It’s entirely feasible to create a network of ocean sanctuaries covering the Arctic and vast areas of international waters, but in order to make it happen we need the legal framework to do it. Fortunately, Greenpeace has been pushing for a United Nations Global Ocean Treaty for years and it is close to being finalized. If world governments get it right, we’re on track to make the largest conservation agreement in history. This is the chance of a lifetime, and Greenpeace is throwing down big in this campaign.
Ocean sanctuaries will protect marine ecosystems and wildlife from destructive activity like unsustainable industrial fishing and deep sea mining. But at the same time, we also need to tackle the plastic pollution crisis choking our oceans and harming and killing whales, turtles, sea birds, and other marine animals.
Greenpeace’s campaign for a plastic-free future is rapidly gaining ground, and the Reuse Revolution is finding real and innovative solutions focused on reusing sustainable materials instead of throwaway plastics. Communities, progressive businesses, and local governments are stepping up with solutions centered around reduction and reuse. We’re holding corporations accountable for the plastic pollution trashing the planet and changing the false narrative they’ve long pushed on plastics. We won’t sacrifice a livable planet for their profit.
And that’s just a topline look at Greenpeace’s near-term priorities heading into our 50th year. We can’t know what surprises are to come—both challenges and opportunities—but we’re ready, and more nimble than ever, so we can seize the moment and shine. Thank you for making it possible!
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