An eco-warrior rests

Greenpeace founder was the pioneer of enviro direct action


Bob Hunter 1941-2005 Rating: NNNNN


I first met Bob Hunter, Greenpeace founder, writer and journalist, in the Vancouver Press Club on Granville Street in 1973, after I arrived in Canada as one of 50,000 draft resisters. I’d discovered Hunter’s columns in the Vancouver Sun and phoned him.

In the pub, as he drained beer glasses and told stories, I sensed a unique genius. He saw things others missed. “Ecology isn’t just cleaning up the oil spills,” he said. “It’s going to change everything – science, politics, philosophy. The quantum physicists see it. Everything is relationship.” Hunter knew journalism and could recite Marshall McLuhan’s media ideas, but he also envisioned ways of applying those ideas to change the prevailing thinking. “The mechanistic paradigm can’t manage the earth,” he insisted. “The new world view is ecology, systems theory.”

When he saw the Zodiac inflatable boats that French commandos used to board a Greenpeace ship, rather than whine about police state tactics, he borrowed their tools. “That’s what we need,” he said.

In 1975, Hunter guided the first Greenpeace whale campaign and made history. The wise guy cracked theatrical jokes over the global airwaves and changed the world.

Hunter wanted the revolution to be fun. The first day I met him, he “ordained” me in his “Whole Earth Church.” All church members are preachers, he insisted. All members share a sacred responsibility to help heal the earth. His wry theatrics, however, carried a serious message.

Inspired by his vision and warmed by his modest humour, I worked closely with him over the next decade. We plotted strategies, sailed together on high-seas campaigns, struck deals with Newfoundlanders over the seal hunt and spent an afternoon in jail together over a tiff with Soviet ships.

In 1979, when the Canadian group handed Greenpeace over to a council of international environmentalists in Amsterdam, Hunter remained philosophical. When asked if the movement was in good hands, he commented, “It’s in plenty of hands. That’s what counts.”

Greenpeace executive director Gerd Leipold has written that “Bob was a storyteller, a shaman, a word magician, a Machiavellian mystic, and he dared to inject a sense of humour into the often shrill and sanctimonious job of changing the world.

He was funny and brave and audacious, inspiring in his refusal to accept the limits of the practical or the probable. He revelled in life’s ability to deliver little miracles in the form of impossibilities achieved. Greenpeace will forever bear the mark of his crazy, super-optimistic faith in the wisdom of tilting at windmills.”

Bob Hunter remains, for me, the funniest person I ever met. His humour grew from spontaneous observation of a world that appeared absurd. The anglicized French Catholic Buddhist would chide the Pope and pray to St. Francis in the same sentence. “Catholic guilt isn’t going to screw up the world,” he once told me. “It might save it. We should feel guilty. We’ve been greedy little well-fed primates.”

When I read his first novel, Erebus, I glimpsed his deep courage to expose himself and admired his eloquence in doing so. Hunter’s humility inspired me more than any of his prodigious skills and traits. He recognized that it was not his fault that he entered this world so bloody smart and talented, so he made nothing of it.

Hunter retained his famous sense of humour to the end. The last time I spoke with him, a week ago, he told me what he had learned from cancer treatment: “Get this,” he chirped. “My blood type is the same as my life’s philosophy. B-positive.”

Rex Weyler is the author of Greenpeace: How A Group Of Ecologists, Journalists, And Visionaries Changed The World (Raincoast Books, 2004). Rex Weyler is the author of Greenpeace: How A Group Of Ecologists, Journalists, And Visionaries Changed The World (Raincoast Books, 2004).

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