This guest post was written by Philip Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace, in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day.
In 1971, a group of 13 Quakers, peace activists, and journalists—all inspired by the tradition of peaceful protests of Dr. King and Gandhi—put their lives on the line when they sailed into the blast zone of a nuclear test to stop the testing of nuclear weapons. The ship they chartered: The Greenpeace.Forty years later, Greenpeace still takes peaceful, principled stands for a green and peaceful future. Along the way, we've opened offices in 42 countries and witnessed incredible victories for our environment: banning nuclear testing, commercial whaling, mining and drilling in Antarctica, the dumping of toxic waste at sea, the most toxic chemicals, and more. In the U.S., we have witnessed great strides to protect our health and communities, including the passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Superfund toxics law, Endangered Species Act, and more.
Today, consumption, the use of toxic chemicals, population, and energy use are growing at unsustainable rates, making the work to protect the environment even more urgent. We do this work in the face of powerful corporate opposition and improved but still disappointing leadership in Washington, DC.
Forty years ago, corporations like Koch Industries and Exxon were not spending tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and front groups to gut or prevent environmental policies. The Supreme Court had not ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.
Today, our elected officials are under great pressure from polluters and other politicians to undo environmental progress. President Obama is leading a behind-closed-doors campaign to resume commercial whaling. He recently decided to reopen coastal oil drilling. The Senate, in a fitting move, plans to release a weak climate and energy bill, which brings back dangerous nuclear energy on the anniversary of Chernobyl.
Politicians didn't stop nuclear testing—activists did. They cared about the world our children will inherit, and worked to stop nuclear testing themselves. It only took 13 people to start the world's largest environmental campaigning organization.
This Earth Day, I hope you'll find your calling to honor their tradition by taking a stand for the people and places that you love in the world and for the generations to come.