Friday, May 2, 2008

TUNA TIME: Greenpeace & the Conservation Toolbox

Last night I was asked what I thought of Greenpeace. Simple question...? Yeah, simple question one might think, but a complex answer followed and an interesting discussion ensued.

The question is complex, for me however, because my wife and her families livelihood is based upon Alaska Salmon and my mother-in-law was at the Brussels seafood show this year, where an 80 person Greenpeace team caused quite a stir.

© Greenpeace / Philip Reynaers

So what do I think of Greenpeace? I've read a lot of negative press (mainly from fishery, industry based sources) and heard a lot of annoyed comments and frustrated remarks about Greenpeace's action last week. I'd like to raise two points:

1. We mustn't take Greenpeace out of conservation context!
There are many marine conservation organisations, Greenpeace included, who are working to save the oceans and the life that lives under and in it. Together those organisations make up a highly complex and interlinked 'toolbox'. Much like a mechanic can use many tools to solve a problem so too do environmental movements. For example, sometimes the mechanic gets out a mallet and whacks the stuck bolt as hard as hell to get it loose and get it to do what he wants. Other times he gets up close and personal with the stuck bolt and gently caresses it with some WD40 and then carefully selects the right wrench to work the nut on a one to one basis.

Conservation work, in my opinion, is exactly the same. Each conservation organisation has different ways of carrying out its work and reaching its goals. Each organisation represents a different tool in the toolbox or a different strategy for the mechanic. So when Greepeace desides to make a stirr, cause some havoc, gain media attention, annoy people, they aren't just trying to be vocal and draw attention to the cause, there is something deeper and more strategic in play. Greenpeace opens doors, heightens the intensity of dialogues and paves new ground for environmetal conciousness. The void that is left behind them is then open to other environmental groups, ones that will actually sit down and talk with industry and build partnerships to improve, as in this case, global fisheries. The environmental issues that span the globe are diverse and ubiquitous and require a diverse array of environmental groups to deal with them. Each with different strategies to suit the type of problem, the objective - desired outcome, and the locale - its socio-cultural and economic needs. The moment we take Greenpeace out of conservation context we've totally lost the point.

2. Evolving and adapting to environmental consciousness.
Is Greenpeace in tune with the evolving and increasing public environmental consciousness? Thats a question that I would love to discuss with someone. So if anyone finds this posting feel free to chip in.

I go backwards and forwards on this question. Greenpeace's activity serves a truly vital role in conservation by raising the issues and drawing attention to them, without such, many environmental issues would slip under the clamour of international media.

But at what cost? The past five years has seen huge advancements for the environment. Environmental issues now feature daily in mainstream media and discussion. Businesses and industry are slowly waking up to smell the 'bacon' and rightly or wrongly hopping on the band-wagon of 'greenism' (a discussion for another day - The Sustainability of 'Greenism': fashion, fade or paradigm?). The level of environmental awarness or perhaps the level of sophistication with which the average person or company now views environmental issues is increasing. Along with that hightened sense of the environment, our ecological footprint, and our understanding of planet earth comes an increased understanding of what needs to be done to over come these challenges.....and there in lies my point. Is Greenpeace keeping up with this level of understanding? Or by using environmental activist tactics of the 1980's alienating itself from people and industry? And what impact could such alienation have upon its legitimacy as a pioneering and progressive organisation?

I love Greenpeace and the work it has achieved over the years. But survival of the fittest is irrevocably tied to adaptation and evolution.

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