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Greenpeace    by Rex Weyler order for
by Rex Weyler
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Rodale, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Greenpeace, the book, woke me up ... eventually. It's a bit of a tome that took a while to grab my interest, while Rex Weyler explored the backgrounds of group founders (including the important influence of the Quaker philosophy of 'bearing witness'), but by the middle of the six hundred plus pages, I was poring over their content in total fascination.

What impressed me most about Weyler's account of the development of the organization was how such a disparate group of social activist volunteers (comprised of Quakers and pacifists, professionals and professors, journalists and 'flaky hippies') were able to work together and make a big difference, in taking a stand against nuclear testing - in particular U.S. testing at Amchitka and French testing in the South Pacific. At the core of the group was an acceptance of diversity and an egalitarian approach. In an early voyage, journalist Ben Metcalfe broadcast, 'We call our ship 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' - still pretty hot topics today!

One factor that the author highlights is the group's early understanding of the need to harness the media, and their ability to use the 'mindbomb', a single image that can 'stimulate mass changes of consciousness'. Weyler describes the varied personalities involved down through the years, and shows how Greenpeace was launched by harnessing a combination of the sagacity of elders and the energy of young idealists from all over the world. One key volunteer provided 'financial jiu-jitsu' and offered the right advice at the right time - 'Do the project. Money follows energy.' Weyler also describes the politicking that came into play as the organization grew multinational, and how it eventually came under the control of the more politically oriented. And the author discusses the evolution of the organization's initial anti-bomb focus to take on the whaling industry, the slaughter of baby seals, dumping of nuclear wastes in the oceans, and broader ecological concerns.

I enjoyed the nostalgia of 60s and 70s references and how much the original group of Greenpeacers was influenced by the culture of that time, including popular SF and fantasy. They referred to their home base in Vancouver as the Shire (the hobbit homeland of Lord of the Rings), the author uses the term grok from Robert Heinlein's influential Stranger in a Strange Land, and they set up a Greenpeace Foundation, the latter word taken from Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. The group's succinct 'Three Laws of Ecology' reminded me of Asimov again, with his 'Three Laws of Robotics'. I also appreciated the author's division of Greenpeace activists into 'the mystics and mechanics', and his explanation of the origins of the term 'Rainbow Warriors' from a book entitled Warriors of the Rainbow, Strange and Prophetic Dreams of the Indian People, donated by a dulcimer-maker.

Though this biography of Greenpeace was a bit too detailed for my level of interest, I did stick with it, impressed by what it takes to lever world opinion and influence governments on this scale, and also by the human dynamics of a hugely successful volunteer organization, eventually composed of 'grassroots activists, Native Nations, union leaders, rank-and-file fishermen, liberal ecologists, university professors, students, vegetarian hippies, biologists, rock and roll stars, and now legions of whale lovers.' Read the book, an impressive account of pretty amazing achievements, and then visit to see what the organization focuses on today.

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