Still rainbow, but more warrior: The latest Greenpeace protests mark a strategic change in its approach

 

A A A

Almost 30 Greenpeace activists face up to 15 years in a Russian prison after protesting at an Arctic oil drilling rig. Others brought a Champions League match in Switzerland to a standstill, dropping down on ropes from a stadium roof before unfurling a banner critical of the Russian oil giant Gazprom. Still more activists scaled the Shard in central London, western Europe's largest building, to object to Shell's oil exploration at the top of the world.

The rapid succession of audacious protests used by Greenpeace to dominate newspaper headlines and television bulletins has been the starkest sign of a renewed vigour coursing through the world's largest independent, direct action environmental organisation.

"There is no question, we are changing," Greenpeace's international executive director, Kumi Naidoo, said. "When we look at the scale of what we are fighting for – in the context of our leaders being in denial about how urgent things are – we believe that intensifying peaceful civil disobedience is not only ethically justifiable but morally necessary."

Expect to see some adjustments: a redirection of resources away from Europe and into emerging economies, including China, India and Brazil. Expect to see less lobbying, less dialogue with corporations and companies, and an increased emphasis on public mobilisation, education and direct action – with the help of the organisation's 2.8 million members. In short: expect an angrier Greenpeace.

The organisation, set up in 1971 when a small boat of volunteers and journalists took to the Pacific to protest against US nuclear testing, has always used a variety of strategies to get its point across. While direct action has always been at its core, so has dialogue with governments and corporations, including Coca-Cola and McDonald's.

Its future will see "more emphasis on mobilising public opinion and educating people about what is happening," according to Mr Naidoo. "We'll put more energy into that than actual lobbying and advocacy work within climate negotiations."

Why? Because the extent of the crisis is now understood, Mr Naidoo explained. "At this point, we have to make a call. [Governments and corporations] know what the right thing to do is, and they agree with us in meetings, but then they continue business as usual. When they have that analytical understanding, what gets them to change? Is it us spending tons more hours chatting with them and telling them what we have always told them a thousand times before? Or do we intensify public understanding and pressure so that it makes it difficult for them not to act urgently?" he asked.

It's clear what his preferred answer is. But what about the activists taking the risks? All 30 of Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise crew have been charged with piracy for taking part in a direct action at a Russian oil rig. They are being held in cells in Murmansk, north-west Russia.

Mr Naidoo admits that the organisation was "taken by surprise" by the charges, which he thinks are "completely disproportionate". He said that freeing his colleagues was a "top priority" but added that, as in other movements, the world needs people who are "prepared to go to prison, put their lives on the line if necessary, in the struggle for climate justice and addressing the reality of runaway catastrophic climate change".

Greenpeace certainly has the numbers. It has spent more than £116m on campaigns around the world. It is present in more than 40 countries, employs 2,500 staff and still accepts no money from companies, governments or political parties. Greenpeace International's income last year was more than £59m, an annual increase of more than 16 per cent.

Case studies

John Bowler, 61, from Ireland, has been at Greenpeace for over a quarter of a century. He was the expedition leader on one anti-whaling trip, spending 70 days at sea in the southern ocean. Now, he works as a forest campaigner in Amsterdam.

"When we were at sea, activists would be given inflatables and put themselves between the harpooner and whale, acting as human shields. Spending two to three months on board a ship builds strong bonds. It was also very hard, but I believed in it. In the early days, we were an organisation saying, 'Stop.' Now, we saying: 'Stop, but do this instead.'

Victoria Henry, 32, from London, works for Greenpeace's digital campaigns. She was also one of six women who scaled the height of the shard in protest against oil drilling in the Arctic.

"If you have a message you want to shout from the rooftops, the Shard is the perfect building. It was big, daring, and audacious. We broadcast it so everyone could live the story together. In the past we might have seen six anonymous people in jumpsuits; in this case we were individuals – giving out our own names, tweeting and giving interviews. We want to show people we're normal. Not superheroes or activists extraordinaire, but ordinary people."

Anna Jones, 32, from Leeds, is a senior campaigner in Greenpeace's energy division. She has climbed the Houses of Parliament, perched on top of a plane and bought Heathrow land to delay a third runway, all in the name of activism.

"I was a Greenpeace kid in the 80s and was inspired by the whaling campaign. In 2008, I stopped a short-haul flight from London to Manchester by climbing on to a plane. I was arrested and charged with minor offences. Greenpeace is willing to take risks. Direct action is seen as radical, but we would say it's appropriate for the level of the crisis."

Steve Sawyer, 57, was an activist at Greenpeace for 29 years. He was on the Rainbow Warrior ship hours before it was bombed by the French secret service agents in 1985. Sawyer acted as International Executive Director for the organisation for five years.

"It was my 29th birthday. I had left the boat at 11.30am and shortly after I reached the hotel [for a meeting], there was a phone call. There had been an explosion; the ship had sunk. They had blown up the boat and killed Fernando. The main-end game for most of the campaigns in the 70s, 80s and well into the 90s was a government decision - a treaty being passed, or a policy change. Environmental issues now are a great deal more complex. It's not a few corporations or governments; it's a total process of reinventing industrial civilisation. It's not something we can win. The strategy becomes more complex."

Sarah Morrison

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015