Greenpeace: How a group of journalists, ecologists and visionaries changed the world by Rex Weyler (Raincoast), 599 pages, $39.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Rex Weyler's monumental Greenpeace documents the organization's first decade. The saga commences with its birth in August 1969, a response to the one-megaton nuclear test planned by the United States on the Alaskan island of Amchitka, and concludes with the formation of an international organization in 1979 that consolidated the groups around the world that had sprung up in support of Greenpeace's mandate to unify ecology and peace.
Weyler weaves his narrative around powerful references to Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings, a metaphor first used by co-founder Robert Hunter, who saw himself as a peaceful hobbit from green Vancouver. He mustered support for keeping the name Greenpeace over trendy calls for changing it to the Green Panthers after he met with Black Panther Fred Hampton, who was later murdered by Chicago police while asleep in his home.
"Anything more than non-violence only gives the police an excuse to eradicate you," Hampton told him.
Weyler packs in dramatic details of the pioneer voyage to Amchitka and subsequent defiance of the French navy and Soviet whaling fleet, all achieved on a shoestring budget. He also lets us in on stunning facts like the existence of secret Soviet nuclear weapons off the coast of British Columbia.
One of Greenpeace's most spectacular recorded actions was the magical meltdown of the Australian whaling industry. Australia's whaling station was run by the God's Garbage motorcycle gang. When Greenpeace's Zodiac crew, attempting to stop the whaling, seemed destined to perish from shark attacks, disaster was averted by the miraculous appearance of dolphins. Fortunately, reporters were present, having been invited by the whaling company's own obviously inept public relations firm - a total PR coup that led to an ultimate real-life victory.
It's encouraging to be reminded that every one of Greenpeace's original goals was eventually achieved. Nuclear tests stopped, and so did the dumping of nuclear waste at sea. The spraying of spruce budworms was banned, as was the hunting of whales.
It gives you hope that the past two decades of mass species extinctions and climate change can be reversed.