The Beginnings of an Ecological Movement: Greenpeace
Frank Zelko’s in depth article, “Making Greenpeace: The Development of Direct Action Environmentalism in British Columbia,” offers an astute analysis of the ideological and societal events that led to the formation of Greenpeace. Through this piece, Zelko deftly traces the historical lineage of North American environmental movements, straight from the Quaker pacifists to the anti-nuclear protests of the 1960s and 1970s. Greenpeace is one of the world’s most influential and long-lasting environmental movements in history. Their work spans the globe and decades. Through exploring Greenpeace’s unlikely beginnings, the author Zelko sheds light on the historical relationship between anti-war movements and ecological movements, as well as the possibility for ordinary citizens to affect change.
To disobey the government is an act that is not for the faint of heart. In fact, the Quakers are one such group of people willing to eschew that which they believed to be immoral. Interestingly, in the beginning of his article, Frank Zelko argues that much of the twentieth century peace movements in the United States have been inspired, if not directly organized, by Quakers. These people were generally a very pacifistic group, refusing to pay war taxes or to be conscripted. But they also helped to organize some of the first war resistance groups such as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) during World War One. This opposition stemmed from the belief that violence and warfare only serve to suppress love, truth and freedom.
Like the Quakers, Ghandi preached conflict resolution through non -violent means. The term coined to describe this brand of pacifism was satyagraha. It was readily adopted by anti-war protesters in the 1940s and onward. As the U.S. began to test nuclear bombs, this type of opposition grew into such groups as “The Peacemakers” and “The War Resistor’s League”. The 1940s and, especially, the 1950s, were witness to a sea change of values within modern society. People were becoming more aware of the ill effects of a materialistic culture on both humans and nature alike. It was at this time that a chemical attributed to atmospheric nuclear testing, strontium 90, was found in mother’s breast milk and Silent Spring was published. Within this article, Frank Zelko makes sure to note that concern for the environment was not the only driving force behind new ecological movements such as Greenpeace. Many people became absorbed in modernist discourses surrounding eastern religions. Combined with ecology, a new left was able to emerge with an entirely different conception of the world.
No doubt, ecology arose out of a need for it. Zelko makes this clear in his depiction of several young people who moved to Vancouver in order to avoid being involved in the Vietnam War. Though his message was fettered by unnecessary and, sometimes, uninteresting anecdotes, Zelko’s article had an altogether cohesive theme: the necessity of peaceful protesters, especially in the environmental realm. He also stresses the improbability that Greenpeace would arise out of Vancouver, but that is where Greenpeace environmental efforts, such as stopping whaling missions and protesting nuclear testing in the Aleutians, began. Their efforts eventually transformed and grew into what is known today as a global ecological movement. Nestled in a province that used to be known for its extreme resource depletion, Greenpeace evolved to become one of the world’s leading, and most necessary, ecological movements.
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