Greenpeace: Forty years on the environmental frontline

by Phil Radford

September 15, 2011

“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.

We do not consider ourselves to be radicals. We are conservatives, who insist upon conserving the environment for our children and future generations.”

This radio message was broadcast around the world on September 15, 1971, as the first Greenpeace crew unfurled their triangular green sail, emblazoned with the peace and ecology symbols, and set out from Vancouver.

The mission of the crew was to sail into the heart of a U.S. nuclear test zone and peacefully prevent the destruction of Amchitka, a pristine island ecosystem off the coast of Alaska. In their rusty little fishing boat, the 12 activists stood up to the greatest military force on the planet.

The group failed to stop the test, but what followed this action was a wave of public support that ultimately shut down the U.S. nuclear testing program, won Amchitka designation as a wildlife sanctuary, and gave birth to Greenpeace.

Today, on Greenpeace’s 40th Anniversary, I find myself flipping through the Greenpeace history books and reflecting upon the great victories achieved with the support of millions of individuals around the globe, from the U.N. nuclear test ban, to the moratorium on commercial whaling, to the protection of Antarctica as a World Park, and much more.

This video of International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo and Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler (who also authored the most comprehensive history of our organization – “Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists and Visionaries Changed the World”) gives us a glimpse back at Greenpeace’s early history, and where we’re headed from here.

From our humble beginning 40 years ago, Greenpeace has grown into one of the largest environmental organizations in the world. Today, Greenpeace operates in over 45 countries and commands a fleet of research and activist ships, which has sailed against environmental destruction on all of the seven seas. We employ world-renowned scientists, campaigners, communicators, policy experts, and grassroots strategists to lead our campaigns. Through it all, Greenpeace has remained independent, accepting no money from governments or corporations.

Today, more and more people understand that the environmental crises confronting us require action, urgent change, and solutions. This movement has grown as millions join in saving our oceans and forests from unchecked destruction, kicking our addiction to fossil fuels to protect our air, water, and climate, and leading the world toward a green and peaceful future. The challenges before us are immense the victories needed in this next decade are going to take all of us and more to win.

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