They started out not wanting to make waves (more on that below). Fifty-one years later, it’s fair to say the founders of Greenpeace — and the activists who came after them — created a tsunami. While environmentalist activism, driven by anxiety over our changing climate, is mainstream these days, five decades ago, it was barely an afterthought. Greenpeace helped change that — bringing planet-threatening issues to the fore and making environmental protection a legitimate global political issue. (For example, Greenpeace has been discussing climate change mitigation since the early 1990s.)
They even have their own day, which happens to be today: September 15.
And so, considering SaltyLama’s commitment to positively impacting the planet, it’s only fitting we recognize Greenpeace and its ongoing mission of conservation, preservation, and environmental justice. Here are 15 facts about the group, its origins, and its mission as we celebrate Greenpeace Day.
1. Greenpeace Day is observed every September 15
Greenpeace Day marks the organization's founding date: September 15, 1971. It all came about when 17 activists in British Columbia set sail on a ship named the Phyllis Cormack. Their mission? Try to stop nuclear tests planned to take place off the shores of Alaska. The testing proceeded, but the protest set in motion a movement that is still relevant and growing in our present. Thus, in honor of Greenpeace, the Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, proclaimed September 15 as Greenpeace Day in 2011.
2. Greenpeace has a simple mission
Greenpeace is dedicated to bringing about change in the way we treat our environment. It calls for peaceful protests to improve the air we breathe, reduce dependency on fossil fuels, avoid plastic usage, and enhance water quality.
3. Greenpeace began as an anti-nuclear organization
Greenpeace wasn’t always Greenpeace. Instead, it was originally called The Don’t Make a Wave Committee. Why? In the late 1960s, the U.S. had planned its Cannikin underground nuclear weapon test on the tectonically unstable island of Amchitka in Alaska. The plans raised concerns the test might trigger earthquakes and cause a tsunami. In 1969, the Don’t Make a Wave Committee formed as an anti-nuclear organization to rally against the test. In 1972, the committee changed its name to Greenpeace Foundation.
4. The organization has green goals
Greenpeace states its goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and focuses its campaigns on worldwide issues such as climate change, deforestation, overfishing, commercial whaling, genetic engineering, and anti-nuclear issues. It uses direct action, lobbying, research, and ecotage to achieve its goals.
5. Greenpeace is famed for its campaigns
Greenpeace is known for launching campaigns highlighting ecological concerns that require urgent attention. A non-governmental organization, the network comprises 26 independent national/regional organizations in more than 55 countries across Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, as well as a coordinating body, Greenpeace International, based in Amsterdam. They also have more than three million members who work actively toward achieving the group’s goals. Greenpeace has also been involved in an initiative for almost 50 years known as The Greenpeace Fleet. This consists of three ships that sail the world’s oceans to raise awareness for environmental justice.
6. Greenpeace is funded in some very cool, ethical ways
Greenpeace’s financial support is a bit different than most activist groups. In fact, in 1970, Irving Stowe — a Yale lawyer, activist, and the group’s founder — arranged the first benefit concert in Vancouver, creating the financial base for Greenpeace’s first campaign. Today, Greenpeace receives its funding from individual supporters and foundations. The network does not accept funding from governments, corporations, or political parties, relying on three million individual supporters and foundation grants. It also screens all major donations to ensure it does not receive unwanted contributions.
7. They play hardball when necessary
Described as one of the most visible environmental organizations in the world, Greenpeace isn’t afraid to use its profile and influence aggressively to leverage action from governments and the private sector.
8. They changed with the times
Greenpeace evolved from a group of Canadian and American protesters into a less conservative band of environmentalists who were more reflective of the counterculture and hippie youth movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The social and cultural background from which Greenpeace emerged heralded a period of de-conditioning away from Old World antecedents and sought to develop new codes of social, environmental, and political behavior.
9. They have made enemies
No one should be surprised by the hostile reception Greenpeace’s efforts and activism have received from their corporate foes — with some going so far as to spy on the group’s activities and infiltrating its offices. Throughout the past five decades, Greenpeace activists have been targets of phone tapping, threats, and even violence.
10. Bombs sunk one of their ships
While berthed in Auckland Harbor in New Zealand, the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior was destroyed by two explosions on July 10, 1985. It had been set to sail to Moruroa Atoll to protest French nuclear weapons tests. The investigation revealed French agents were responsible for planting the bombs that sunk the ship. The subsequent scandal resulted in the French minister of defense and the head of France’s intelligence services losing their jobs.
11. Greenpeace believes in confrontation — but not violence
Greenpeace uses creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems and develop solutions for a green and peaceful future.
12. Their mission has green goals
Greenpeace aims to ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity. Their stated goals are to
- Stop the planet from warming beyond 1.5 degrees to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
- Protect biodiversity in all its forms.
- Slow the volume of hyper-consumption, so humanity learns to live within its means.
- Promote renewable energy as a solution that can power the world.
- Nurture peace, global disarmament, and non-violence.
13. Greenpeace Day is celebrated in various ways
Today marks a perfect opportunity to start considering how you can campaign for your planet. In Vancouver, the birthplace of Greenpeace, the celebrations include:
- Free family-friendly outdoor festivals.
- Tree planting.
- Workshops focused on activism.
- Environmental-centric activities.
It’s not too late for anyone to join the effort, either. Be it a social media campaign, volunteering with Greenpeace, or making small changes in your daily life, you can seek environmental justice in multiple ways.
14. Greenpeace encourages us to advocate
The organization encourages individuals worldwide to “unleash your inner activist and contribute towards preserving the planet we live on.” They believe that small steps are often underestimated but always necessary.
15. They welcome volunteers
According to their website, you can actively take part in protecting the environment by volunteering with Greenpeace. The organization states they are always looking for passionate people to join their cause to make the planet a better place to live in for future generations.
So today, think about how you celebrate this amazing organization and their work — regardless of the danger they sometimes face — to help all of us. You may not be able to coordinate a campaign, but you can certainly make daily decisions that make our planet a better place for present and future generations. Happy Greenpeace Day, friends!