Greenpeace: 40 years of making waves

It was 40 years ago that a ragtag group of hippies first set sail from Burrard Inlet in an attempt to stop the U.S. government from blowing up nuclear bombs off the coast of Alaska. Worried the testing could trigger devastating tsunamis, the young environmentalists initially called themselves the Don’t Make a Wave Foundation, but soon ended up themselves making waves of their own under their new nom de guerre, Greenpeace.

The Greenpeace Foundation has since become the world’s largest, independent environmental organization and famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view or stock holdings) for taking a hands-on approach to a variety of important issues ranging from global warming to rainforest deforestation, overfishing and commercial whaling.

Mayor Gregor Robertson has proclaimed Sept. 15 the anniversary of the group’s maiden voyage, to be “Greenpeace Day” in the homegrown heroes’ honour. It’s a day Barbara Stowe, the daughter of original founders Irving Stowe and Dorothy Rabinowitz, didn’t expect would ever come.

“It’s a little bit of a shock but it is a good thing,” said the South Vancouver resident. “It’s kind of amazing what has happened to Greenpeace since its modest beginnings.”

Stowe was still a teenager when her parents began hosting meetings at their Point Grey home. “Our house started filling up with these sort of weighty minds like Bob Hunter and Ben Metcalf. It was an exciting time but it was also very frightening time, knowing of the potential consequences of these nuclear tests.”

Despite two separate attempts, Greenpeace members never made it to the test zone in the Aleutian Islands and was unable to stop the U.S. from detonating three bombs. However, they succeeded in causing enough outrage in the international community to pressure the Americans to finally put a stop to it.

“Even Japan was protesting them,” pointed out Stowe. “The whole Pacific Rim was. You really have to wonder if with the recent earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan if nuclear tests conducted a mile underground, many times as powerful as the ones that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in one of the most tectonically unstable regions of the world played a part in it.”

She said there is a certain irony to Greenpeace being honoured by any form of government, even at a municipal level, seeing as how the group has been a thorn in the side of so many of them.

“It’s not surprising that some governments might be reluctant to recognize them. I’m sure they’ve pissed off most governments over the years. I can’t quite imagine [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper honouring them.”

(This story was first published Sept. 14, 2011. © Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier)
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