They set out to sea with the ambitious idea of stopping US nuclear tests in Alaska, aboard an old fishing boat renamed Greenpeace for the occasion, September 15, 1971.
Fifty years later, this tiny group of 12 BC activists has grown into one of the world’s best-known environmental organizations, with offices in over 50 countries.
The modus operandi has not changed: revealing to the general public environmental problems that they would not otherwise be able to see, little-known issues.
“There aren’t a lot of people who can go directly to the field to see what’s going on, a bit like in the early days for nuclear tests,” explained in an interview with Press Quebecer Frédéric Bleau, now director of operations for Greenpeace France, after having worked in various offices of the organization around the world for the past 20 years.
It is the same logic that led Greenpeace to take action on the oil sands production sites of Alberta and in the Canadian parliament in 2009.
“At the time, it was not yet well known, no one spoke of it as being a big problem,” recalls Frédéric Bleau, who was part of the group of activists who had blocked a site of the Shell oil company.
“The main objective was to get the images out and we succeeded,” he says, believing that it is largely thanks to Greenpeace that the environmental issues linked to the tar sands then became topical.
This is the role of Greenpeace: to see what the problems are, where they are, and get the visual.
Frédéric Bleau, Greenpeace
When the problem does not show itself, spectacular action shines the spotlight on it, such as the 2001 ascent of the CN Tower in Toronto by a certain Steven Guilbeault, now outgoing minister of the federal government, to draw attention to a subject that is now inescapable, but which was still little in the headlines at the time: climate change.
In half a century of existence, Greenpeace’s mission has evolved beyond protests and civil disobedience.
There was a time when we were criticized for saying that we did not provide solutions, but for several years, we have been really oriented towards solutions.
Frédéric Bleau, Greenpeace
But the actions on the ground remain the trademark of Greenpeace, and they have their utility, believes the one whose job consists precisely in planning the “nonviolent direct actions” of the organization, but also the simple demonstrations and the mobilization.
“It makes room for other organizations, which do a different job,” he says.
While things generally go well, the tragically famous episode of Rainbow Warrior reminds that they can also sometimes turn out very badly.
In July 1985, this Greenpeace ship was sabotaged by the French secret service in the port of Auckland, New Zealand, killing a photographer who was on board.
The affair had led to the resignation of the director general of the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE) and of the French Minister of Defense.
Five “victories” claimed by Greenpeace
1972 : US nuclear tests on Amchitka Island, Alaska, abandoned following first-ever action by Greenpeace the year before
1982 : Moratorium on commercial whaling after actions at sea against industrial whalers
1991 : Ban on all mining in Antarctica for 50 years, after pressure from various environmental groups
2011 : Major clothing brands pledge to end releases of dangerous chemicals, after release of Greenpeace report titled Dirty Laundry (Dirty laundry)
2017 : Abandonment of the TransCanada Energy East pipeline project, after more than five years of campaigning by various environmental groups and citizen mobilization