Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World by Rex Weyler (2004, Rodale Press, 612 pp)
I just finished reading Rex Weyler’s Greenpeace…, which I purchased shortly after meeting Rex at a conference in July. His talk, which is posted on YouTube and on the Ecomind site, haunted me. Although I knew much of what he talked about, the actual confrontation with his data rattled my tendency for complacency.His book, Greenpeace…, has had a similar effect and provides a thorough background to his more recent thinking and actions.
In the book, he delves into the political background starting in the late 1930’s, and also addresses the beginning of environmental/ecological awareness in the 1950. The whole book reads like an historical novel with captivating dialogue, intrigue, and humor. He brings to light some of the insidious patterns of power, control, and greed that have steadily led to the increased destruction of our local and global environments, including the increased extinction of many species of life.
Greenpeace started with protests of extensive nuclear tests. Their first trip on Greenpeace I, a contracted boat with its captain, John Cormack, headed to Amchitka Island in the Aleutians, where the United States was testing nuclear bombs deep under the surface of the Earth. Of course, the tests occurred along a very active tectonic plate boundary and literally exploded the heads off of wildlife on and around the island. Although they didn’t manage to stop the test they were focused on, their fundamental strategy of using the media to put pressure on governments and corporations was successful eventually, but only after many attempts and a ramming and beatings by the French navy. But, they maintained their core values of not doing harm to anyone and of not damaging property.
As they moved on to trying to stop the slaughtering of whales, they encountered the same resistance, but managed to put incredible pressure on countries to stop whaling. Interspersed with the open ocean adventures, are stories of Dr. Paul Spong’s and other scientists’ investigations of whales and their extensive intelligence and sensitivity. When Spong first started investigating whales he was dangling his feet in the water in the Vancouver Aquarium’s Orca tank. When the Orca swam up and brushed his foot with her teeth, Spong reacted reflexively by pulling his legs out of the water. After a number of times doing this, he forced himself not to react. When the Orca saw that he didn’t react, she swam out into middle of the tank and started making lots of sounds. It was at this point that Dr. Spong realized he had just been trained by the Orca and the roles had been reversed.
Rex Weyler also introduces a great deal of fundamental ecological concepts, to which we all should pay very close attention. The nature of the carbon cycle, energy, and toxicity, as well as all of the complex interactions among life forms (including humans) and the environment should be fundamental to the way we view our life and actions on Earth.
As Greenpeace expanded to protecting seals from being skinned alive, while decimating their populations (as with the whales), to dealing many other environmental and socio-political issues, the internal politics of Greenpeace became another potentially damaging dimension to their very future. However, the wisdom of a few key players helped Greenpeace to thrive as an international organization.
What I find troubling now is that it is very difficult to use the media to bring issues to light. We do have the capability to use the Internet for disseminating information, but the broad impact of the media is no longer a possibility. While the major TV networks and newspapers covered the actions of Greenpeace in the 1970’s, these same networks and newspapers are now owned by the corporations that are behind many of the current, destructive practices. From the ignorance, irresponsible, and dangerous practices of FOX news to the poor journalism of most of NPR, we’re placed in a fog of ignorance.
For those of us who lived during the beginning decade of Greenpeace in the 1970’s, the book introduces many familiar key figures on both sides of the issues. Some of the key players included then president Nixon and Jerry Brown (past and present governor of California), as well as Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlingetti, Chögyam Trungpa, and the 16th Karmapa, who provided support and wisdom. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and the I Ching also served as guides for their actions.
Reading Greenpeace…. was a joy (even when the stories were at their most disturbing). I found it hard to put down, even though each chapter is broken down into one to three page sections making it easy to read in small bits. I highly recommend this book as both an engaging read and an important source of information about our past and current situations. For me, the book has been a call to action, as well. We shouldn’t sit back, while the destruction of our global environment threatens the survival of the human species.
More by Rex Weyler:
http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/ with links to Greenpeace International