Are boulders putting Greenpeace back on the activism map?

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In recent years, climate activism has had somewhat of a resurgence – well, we are all living in a climate emergency. From the School Strikes for Climate inspired by the now-infamous schoolgirl Greta Thunberg to the more radical forms of activism displayed by Extinction Rebellion members. 

But in amongst all of these displays of activist affection for our planet, I cannot help but wonder where our beloved Greenpeace has gone from this narrative – especially seeing as they were the founding fathers and mothers of the climate activist movement that Generation Z is so passionate about today. 

Greenpeace was founded in 1971 and arguably peaked their peak levels of activism, membership, and newspaper coverage in the 1980s and 90s. They even released a record called ‘Rainbow Warriors’ in 1988 – which I highly recommended if you want to recreate the 80s ballads vibe from Klute. 

In all seriousness, it does feel as if the power of Greenpeace faded somewhat into the turn of the century, or at least their forms of activism were not powerful or disruptive enough to make their way into the newspapers recently – though perhaps this has all started to change? Is Greenpeace beginning to have a revival of the activist glory days that made it a worldwide phenomenon in the first place?

As I was browsing the Greenpeace website searching for research material for this article, it struck me how far this climate activism organisation has come in terms of being organised. Gone are the early days of small Greenpeace marches against nuclear arms testing in the 1970s, or the team of activists protecting the Arctic ocean first-hand on their ship The Rainbow Warrior – Greenpeace is now a bona fide institution with its own news team and an even bigger ship. 

There is a tendency for Greenpeace supporters to wonder if the organisation has strayed too far away from its grounded activist roots. Still, I would argue that better organisation can only be a good thing for Greenpeace’s integrity, especially in the age of different climate activists vying for attention from traditional and social media. 

And this brings me on to Greenpeace’s latest activist stunt to protect the oceans, which has been widely covered in newspapers recently – namely, the dropping of boulders into the sea off the Brighton coast to physically stop ‘bottom trawlers’ from destroying the protected seabed areas there, and of course to highlight the Government’s failings in this regard.

This is one of the most high-profile acts that Greenpeace has performed to protect the environment in recent years. It has received widespread news coverage – even the BBC had a report on it! Boulders with the names of celebrity supporters spray-painted on the side were dropped over 55 square miles of seabed off the Sussex coast – they needed a massive boulder for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s name – all in the name of protecting the marine wildlife of supposedly protected areas of the oceans. 

However, the UK Government has not been protecting it from the deep-sea fishing trawlers in this post-Brexit climate. Even though the activism of this boulder project is significant in and of itself, it is also worth noting the shift in media attention towards Greenpeace projects, which has not been so prominent arguably since the height of Greenpeace activities in the 1980s (unless, of course, you are an avid member of Greenpeace). 

Perhaps the general public is becoming more receptive to these targeted activist projects from Greenpeace as a direct way of combatting climate change and biodiversity loss instead of the less targeted road blockages that Extinction Rebellion activists have become known for? This is speculation, of course, but it is an exciting shift to think about in terms of future forms of climate activism, especially as world temperatures continue to rise despite the ‘carbon reset’ some countries experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

Are boulders going to restart positive public reception of Greenpeace activism, or are mainstream media sources going to continue with regular practice to keep Greenpeace on the fringes of societal responses to this climate emergency? As a supporter of Greenpeace projects, I certainly hope that people will start to take their climate activism seriously again. Still, only time will tell in this regard, especially seeing as the clock is ticking on irreversible climate change. Will you support them too?

Image: Valerio Donfrancesco via Flickr

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