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.