Image via Greenpeace.
Greenpeace has a long history of using peaceful protest to achieve environmental victories
A recent Treehugger poll asked if Greenpeace's tactics were an "acceptable method of communication" or not. Here's our point of view: Non-violent direct action, also referred to simply as NVDA, has played a major role in the many victories Greenpeace has won since 1971, when twelve brave souls set sail for Amchitka, an island off Alaska's coast, to prevent a nuclear test by the U.S. government.Did these brave activists stop that blast? No, they actually didn't. The Coast Guard forced them to turn around. But thanks to the political firestorm ignited by these original Greenpeace activists, the U.S. government ended nuclear tests at Amchitka. Not to mention, a long history of Greenpeace activists using NVDA to achieve important and lasting victories for the environment was begun.
Last month, Greenpeace lived up to its history. We re-branded Hewlett-Packard (HP) as "Hazardous Products" at its headquarters to remind the company of its commitments to phase toxic chemicals out of its products, while we hung a banner on Mt. Rushmore urging President Obama to "Be a Leader NOT a Politician: Stop Global Warming."
Some TreeHugger readers have questioned the efficacy of these actions, so I thought I'd write a little bit about Greenpeace's campaigns and tactics in order to clear up any misconceptions or questions.
Hewlett-Packard backsliding on green commitments
Greenpeace has been campaigning to get toxic chemicals out of electronics for four years. Our quarterly report, the Guide to Greener Electronics rates companies on a variety of criteria, including their plans to phase out harmful toxic substances from their products.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) has moved steadily backwards in our rankings (they're now 14 out of 18 companies ranked). HP recently postponed a commitment it made to phase out dangerous substances such as brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics by 2009. This delay adds two more years to the presence of toxic chemicals in HP's computers, and YOUR exposure to them.
We studied the supply chain, and found that companies like Apple, Dell, and Acer are already using subsitutes for these harmful components. We met with HP execs, and that got us nowhere. Something had to be done to remind HP of its obligations to be a responsible corporate citizen of the world. So Greenpeace activists did what they do best: they took action. In order to highlight the enormity of the problem, they painted "Hazardous Products" on top of HP's headquarters (in non-toxic, water-soluble paint of course). And now people the world over are discussing HP's business practices, including the fine folks who read TreeHugger.
It's imperative that we (and YOU!) hold companies accountable for their public commitments. Greenpeace is known as an organization that will stand up and hold bad actors accountable, and the direct action at HP's headquarters was a part of that proud tradition.
A recent post here on TreeHugger said of our direct action at HP's headquarters: "They have a point. Though we're not sure how the rooftop graffiti will effect HP's actions. We'll watch and see.
That's true. The next move is up to HP, and there's no way to predict how our direct action will influence their decisionmakers. The company's reaction to our message is just so many more words from the company. We need more than words, we need them to honor their commitments. The only thing certain, at this point, is that Greenpeace activists won't let HP off the hook until the company decides to honor those commitments.
America honors leaders —- but President Obama is playing politics
Addressing climate change will require true leadership. The science is clear: we need to reduce our emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80-95% by 2050. If we do any less than that, we risk crossing a tipping point that will bring about the worst impacts of global warming — devastating floods, droughts, wildfires, and storms.
That's the reality of the situation we're facing. But the House recently passed a climate bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), that sets targets far below those mandated by science — largely because the fossil fuels industries lobbied hard to weaken the bill.
In President Obama's inaugural address, he vowed to "restore science to its rightful place." ACES, which the Senate plans to vote on by December, falls woefully short of that mark, yet President Obama sat out of the entire debate and spent none of his political capital to make sure the bill is based on the best available science.
That's why Greenpeace activists let Obama know that if he wants to be considered equal to the great American leaders featured on Mt. Rushmore, he needs to be a leader rather than play politics on the issue of global warming.
For the record, no harm was done to the monument whatsoever. Our climbers used existing leads on the mountain that the Park Service uses to clean the monument. We temporarily put a banner up, then took it down. No lasting changes were made of any kind.
At least, not to the monument. Thousands of people have signed postcards and online petitions calling on President Obama to be a leader and stop global warming. More importantly, thousands of people have told their friends and families about the action and the issues we raised, prompting a vibrant debate on global warming policy and America's role in leading the world's response to the crisis. So hopefully there will be lasting change — to the state of America's policy on global warming.
More than the actions themselves, perhaps, the public awareness we gain from NVDA is what will really drive change. By helping to shape the public debate, Greenpeace is helping make a green and peaceful future a reality.
Mike Gaworecki is the Web Editor for Greenpeace USA.
More on Greenpeace and Green Activism
Greenpeace Paints on HP's Roof to Protest Hazardous Materials
HP Responds to Greenpeace's Rooftop Graffiti Stunt
Greenpeace Drapes Obama Poster Over Mount Rushmore
Green Electronics Guide From Greenpeace
Meet Philip Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace