I often get asked “what does Greenpeace do exactly?”. For most people Greenpeace evokes the environment, animals and maybe direct actions, but it’s hard for them to understand how all this is done, whether it works and why I would choose to spend my spare time with hippies.
Well even though my evolment started with the gut feeling that I couldn't stay inactive while the planet was being ransacked, during my six months volunteering as an archivist at Greenpeace UK, I was able to witness the long term impact of Greenpeace campaigns.
My first visit to the archives was a bit daunting, the first thing I saw was a full size polar bear ,aka Paula Bear, guarding the door, once inside I was overwhelmed by the amount of boxes and how high they rose (which meant that I spent a lot of time going up and down ladders with boxes in my arms but at least I didn’t need to go to the gym), on the upside it was cool and quiet inside. As you may have guessed from the picture, the coolness increased as the seasons passed and I ended up wearing my thermals, a hat and gloves every time I went to review and sort boxes in the archives.
But what I discovered once I got started was the fascinating research that is conducted before a campaign is considered. Greenpeace specialists thoroughly investigate companies’ actions, to the extent of purchasing and keeping entire boxes of plywood samples purchased in various DYI outlets. In other boxes I encountered research reports commissioned by various experts (Large and Associates or Market & Opinion Research International aka MORI) which were then used in court cases to prevent further damage to the environment.
The discovery of Waveland passports used during the Atlantic Frontier campaign led to more boxes containing documents retracing how Greenpeace had legally challenged the UK government and 10 oil companies over oil exploration on the Atlantic Frontier (part of the Atlantic Ocean to the West of Scotland).
The legal case came to a climax in March 1999 with an application centred on the claim that the government was failing in its duty to protect sea life and coral reefs under the EU Habitats Directive. Greenpeace lawyers argued that the Directive applies within 200 nautical miles of the UK coast, in line with the opinion of the European Commission, while the government contended the limit was 12 nautical miles. The verdict that was given in November 1999 by Mr Justice Kay in the High Court and ruled in favour of Greenpeace which meant that the UK government had to carry out environmental impact assessments, setting aside conservation areas for whales, dolphins and vulnerable habitats, before issuing new oil licenses.
This is just one example out of the many successful campaigns Greenpeace has led, but I thought it was quite encouraging for the current Save the Arctic campaign because it not only demonstrates that Greenpeace and its members aren’t afraid of standing up against governments or companies but also that victories can and will be achieved.