Podcast: Pete Wilkinson Co-Founder of Greenpeace Talks About His Life
I imagine that nearly everyone has heard of Greenpeace. It is one of the most famous non-governmental organizations in the world and it is reknowned for activist protests to protect the environment. I did not genuinely know much about the organisation until the other day a librarian at Edinburgh Central Library told me I should go along to the Edinburgh Reads event as one of the founders of Greenpeace was going to be talking.
Two reasons compelled me to go along. One – that our librarie are very special places and should be as well used as possible, lest we lose all of them in the cull happening across the country (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/12/library-campaigners-1000-closures-2016); the second is that I am concerned about our environment and it is always worth finding out more about how the organisations which occupy your landscape started.
Going along I scrambled into the main reference hall where a bustling room of people had gathered. Luckily I had managed to get an odd seat at the front and I brought along my Zoom H4N handycorder to record this podcast:
Pete Wilkinson started the story of how he was a lorry driver in Deptford who cared about the environment and how he had been attending Friends of the Earth but had met a glass ceiling there as it was very much an ‘old boys and girls network’. He wanted to be a bigger part of the organisational side of campaigning against environmental travesties but found that he was bizzarely lacking a degree from Oxford or Cambridge. This was his reason for joining a few people who were starting Greenpeace.
He has recently written a book so that he can pass on his lifestory to his children and others. It sounds like he has had a very interesting life being involved in the instrumental campaigns which challenged attitudes about things like nuclear testing in the pacific ocean, hunting of seal pups for fur, the pollution of the antarctic, whale hunting and ‘one-trip-packaging’.
I am glad that I went along to hear him talk as it put in context how much intellectual work he and others put into each campaign, delivering not just criticism and obstruction to damaging practices but also offering packages of alternative practices. It brought into sharp relief the fearless lengths they were prepared to go to to make their points.
The famous boat ‘Rainbow Warrier’ was captained by Mike to lots of destinations to disrupt whaling vescles and disturb the program of nuclear detonations being let off under the oceans. At the time Greenpeace had become such a threat to the French government that they send out a team of French intelligence officers to sink the ship. Interestingly this created more publicity than ever before and sympathy donations flooded in from across the world. The French government was then charged with piracy which led to them abandoning their nuclear testing program.
Wilkinson describes many of his victories in the field as Pyrhric, but I wonder if they truly were. The work which he did has inspired countless numbers of people to think more and integrate environmental concerns into their lives. They have forced issues when they needed forced, and it seems that Pete Wilkinson has been appointed as the Director of Nuclear Information Service.
Considering the decimation that industry and our careless consumption habit has wrecked on the biosystems of the world, I feel that it has been all too easy to label such dedicated people like Mike as ‘radicals’, ‘loonies’, ‘anarchists’ – some of the idiotic labels I have seen used to marginalise environmental activists. Yes people like him have done things that are not entirely safe in regards to their own lives, but I wonder how it pans out when we see the sheer depth of the damage that is coming from careless money-grubbing.
The number of deaths which are caused by the pollution of cars and combustion engine vehicles is on the steady increase (http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/04april/Pages/air-pollution-exhaust-death-estimates.aspx). It also causes people to develop asthma (http://www.environmental-protection.org.uk/committees/air-quality/about-air-pollution/air-pollution-and-health/). This is only the tip of the iceberg when we consider that this is only the attention paid to our own narcissistic welfare. The development of roads is destroying so much of our countryside and effectively waterproofing the earth’s surface with tarmac. The environmental consequences of thoughtless consumption of transport – i.e. everyone owning a car – are harrowing and very, very obvious. Not only this but the motor vehicle is displacing human activities such as walking, meeting people, and play areas.
I am reminded of being told how environmental ‘radicals, loonies and anarchists’ have not thought things through by a guy who had developed diabetes from eating processed food and sitting in a chair all day every day. Im afraid he was a fat computer programmer who loved buying gadgets and spending money for mindless pleasure. To him, an urbanite who had near antipathy to anything that was not steam cleanable or submersible in antiseptic.
The point that I am trying to make is that the worrying characters are the people who do nothing – or even worse – the ones who pursue their confirmation bias and attack the idea of trying to make a positive difference so that our actions are less wasteful and polluting. My feeling is that we desparately need people like Mike Wilkinson to shake us free from our 20th centure malaise and start clawing back responsibility for our actions. Otherwise it is a situation where we are stealing from the futures of children – all of them – and inflict what amounts to genecide on countless number of species [State of Nature report: .https://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/stateofnature_tcm9-345839.pdf].
I asked him what can we do in our own lives ? Do we give up hot drinks ? What ? I mentioned giving up hot drinks because it creates so much energy to boil a kettle for one cup of tea or coffee; also it takes 20 tonnes of water to make a kilo of coffee… What he said was organise yourself; if you want to try and make a difference, think about your campaign, make a plan and act on it. Alternatively, he said that one of the best things we can do is become vegetarian as breeding and eating animals such as we are is not sustainable for the planet. Very inspiring stuff. Now I need to think about the way I live to work out what I can change.