Greenpeace is one of the most well-known and visible non-governmental environmental organizations in the world, with offices in over 40 countries and a history of attention-grabbing campaigns. Professor Judith Shapiro’s Global Environmental Politics class had the honor of visiting the Greenpeace USA office. Bill Richardson, the US Deputy Executive Director, introduced the class to the beautiful and environmentally friendly D.C. office, the core mission of Greenpeace, and Lisa Ramsden, their Actions and Logistics Coordinator. Lisa gave the class a presentation on the kind of conspicuous protests that Greenpeace is most famous for, such as banner hanging, whaling ship interventions, homeless polar bear sign bearers and message-bearing blimps. The kind of direct communication that the organization does, such as hanging banners on a corporation’s headquarters, is one of their methods undertaken if a company is unwilling to change their harmful practices. Riskier endeavors, such as last year’s direct action to stop a Shell Oil ship from leaving Oregon on its way to an ocean drilling site in the Arctic, are less common but often incredibly effective; the 13 climbers hanging from St. John’s Bridge stopped the Shell vessel the Fennica from joining the rest of the fleet. Later that year Shell announced plans to withdraw from Arctic drilling, citing high costs and difficult regulations; environmentalists around the world welcomed the news and lauded Greenpeace for the bold action.
But behind any protest or demonstration that Greenpeace does there is an immense amount of work and research, led by people like Charlie Cray. Charlie, a member of the Greenpeace research department team since 2010, told the students about his work to bring to light the individuals and corporations behind environmentally detrimental policies. Investigation and documentation are the first steps that an organization like Greenpeace has to take before they can pursue action to publicly confront a business or a politician. Often the corporation will work with Greenpeace to avoid the kind of large-scale public naming and shaming campaigns that businesses like Kimberly-Clarke and Exxon have been privy to.
Marine biologist John Hocevar broke down some of the actions that Greenpeace is taking to try and slow down the rampant over-fishing done by big seafood companies, and the different approaches that they can take. Many companies are concerned with the potential for public backlash due to the success of Greenpeace actions, and are now much more willing to work to change their policies without as much media coverage. This kind of pressure has been especially useful in moving grocery store chains in the US to shift to more sustainable practices, taking the difficult task of choosing ocean-healthy fish out of the hands of the consumers and placing it with the suppliers. John works with companies to promote fishing methods that keep ocean populations from being unsafely decimated and limit the amount of bycatch, such as stopping the use of fish aggregating devices. The protection of the oceans has always been one of the foundations of Greenpeace, and the continued depletion of the sea is a huge threat. The class left Greenpeace feeling “incredibly inspired” and “blown away,” by the huge successes that the organization has achieved since its founding in 1971. The visibility and strength that Greenpeace has is all the more impressive when coupled with the fact that they receive no funding from corporations or governments; the determined support of individuals is what makes Greenpeace so influential.