Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

How I would chose the next Executive Director of Greenpeace International

How would I, one of Greenpeace's unpaid volunteers, chose the next Executive Director of Greenpeace International, the most highly paid if its paid staff?

Probably I would chose to be locked in a police cell with them, facing perhaps six months in prison and with the possibility that what we just did might not play very well with the public in general and the environmental community in particular.

I once spent a short period of time with Lord Peter Melchett in just such a position. He bore up pretty well, and if he hadn't already been Director of Greenpeace UK at that time I'd have given him the job.

The role of volunteer in Greenpeace is a complex one. It encompasses everyone from the occasional attender of stalls to stalwart organisers of many decades experience. Some of us know very little of the world of campaigning whilst some of us think we know more than the professionals at Canonbury Villas. A few of us actually do. Many have been on more actions than some of the Actions team and others are more qualified to campaign than some of the Campaigners. That Greenpeace has been able to command the services of this 'territorial army' of volunteers, prepared to give up their time, energy, skills and even liberty, is something that helps make Greenpeace a great organisation.

Keeping this going is the challenge.

But volunteers have another role to play in the organisation. Greenpeace staff are dedicated people, doing a job they love for an organisation they are committed to. Most of us aren't like that. Many professionals in NGOs have never worked outside the field. For them the idea of doing a job you hate for a company you despise is an alien concept, but that is reality for most of the people we are trying to influence. If you're not someone who goes to work to pay for the car that takes you to work, it's hard for you to understand that life. Volunteers provide that link, that insight and that grounding in everyday reality.

But then the job of Executive Director is also a complex one. The Director isn't just the top of the organisational tree, he or she is also our link to the outside world, the one who walks point for an international organisation that plays in the big league. They are responsible for the safety of activists playing some very dangerous games with very serious players, and they carry the can for an organisation prepared to take risks. But most of all he or she is the leader of the world's most effective organisation campaigning on the world's most pressing problems.

Most volunteers will never meet the ED, and many would struggle to name them. In an organisation like Greenpeace many layers of management lie in between. But their roles are interlinked. When out on the streets trying to attract a bored public it is important that the name Greenpeace catches their attention. Big, internationally successful campaigns make this easy. Big, international failures make it difficult.

And Greenpeace is an international organisation, at ever level. Last summer I travelled with the British contingent to The Human Chain in Germany. 8000 Greenpeace supporters, ten percent from outside Germany, protesting against open cast brown coal. What's more our London coach was almost as international as the main gathering. Eight nationalities was the count I think. Not counting Geordie.

An amazing success then, but, but, but... Of those 8000 people, every single one looked like a
Greenpeace supporter. A European Greenpeace supporter. This was Greenpeace in its comfort zone, mobilsing on home turf in one of the greenest counties in the world.

Meanwhile, in the Global South, the people who will actually decide what sort of future the world will have are were largely ignorant of what we were doing. The future of Africa, Asian and South America is the future of the world. That they will bear the brunt of the climate chaos the affluent West has unleashed is certain. Whether they follow our path of unsustainable development is not, but that will be their choice and not ours.

So the big problem the new ED is how do we merge these two worlds. How does a continent that has colonised the world on the back of cheap hydrocarbons, tell the rest of the planet to keep it in the ground? We cannot loose a single one of our core supporters. Even in Germany there not enough of them. But when we talk about solving the global ecological crisis, we must also be taking about the global majority world.

And here Greenpeace hits its next problem. Greenpeace has its way of doing things. Greenpeace is organised, it is is disciplined and it's people, the professionals and the volunteers, are chosen because they are competent and can be trusted. My trial judge described us as having "the mindset of an elite military unit". Never mind that the night before this "elite military unit" had been playing some very silly games in the pub, when the show started we performed. That is the Greenpeace way.

But as Greenpeace has grown as an organisation, the problems have grown even faster. When looking at the big issues in the world; climate change, the loss of biodiversity, a voracious industrial capitalism, etc, we find that Greenpeace cannot work alone. How does an organisation that won't let a volunteer put a sticker on a tin of tuna without fully training them, work with organisations that are considerably looser than ourselves, whether that be anti-fracking Nanas in Lancashire or landless farmers in Brazil? How does this square with 'the Greenpeace way'?

So, imagining we locked in a cell and awaiting our fate, I would like the aspiring ED to answer these four questions:
  • What do they think Greenpeace gains from its reserve army of volunteers?
  • What will they do to continue to ensure their ongoing support?
  • How does a centralised and disciplined organisation work with other, less formal groups, to solve the really big problems of the world?
  • How does a global organisation that has traditionally been run by the sort of people whose fridges are full of tofu, recruit volunteers from the people of the world for whom even having a fridge is an unrealisable aspiration?

Monday, 13 July 2015

Sinking a Rainbow

Thirty years ago today the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was lying on the bottom of Auckland Harbour, the target of a state sponsored terrorist attack that had killed photographer Fernando Pereira.

The vessel had been on her way to protest French nuclear tests when she had been attacked by members of the Action division of the French intelligence service, the DGSE.

None of the nations that are currently fighting the War on Terror ever condemned France for the attack.

Saving the World

I don't know what gives some people a social conscience.

However if you are someone who cares about the rest of humanity, there are various ways you can show it. Some people care for relatives, others volunteer for local charities.

Some of us though take a broader view and campaign on issues of human rights, international development or the environment. All are worthy causes and all are represented by internationally respected non-governmental organisations. All are ways of making the world a better place.

However if you want an interesting life, you need to choose the environment. There are certainly parts of the world where it is very dangerous to be a human rights activist, and also places where international development workers risk their lives every day, but in the boring old western world these are fairly safe activities.

Not so being an eco-warrior.


Personally I've got away fairly lightly. An irate farmer in Norfolk nearly ploughed me into GM plant food and I once found myself alone in the dark with a couple of members of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment. (Note - I found them before they found me!). I've had plenty of tussles with security and been arrested, searched, bailed and all the fun of the fair, but have walked away every time with no serious injuries and no criminal record.

However a quick look through my friends and social media contacts and you find;
  • Mr. Phil Ball, former BBC natural history film maker, who was arrested at gunpoint by Russian Special Forces on the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise as it protested against Arctic oil, and who spent three months in prison facing charges that could have banged him up for 15 years.
  • Ms. Vera Scroggins, a 63 year old Pennsylvania anti-fracking campaigner with a clean criminal record and who has never been arrested, but who is banned from 312 square miles of the state by an injunction.
  •  Mr. Darryl Cheney, Californian forests campaigner, blown up by an allegedly FBI manufactured bomb under his girlfriend's car seat (word 'allegedly' added on the advice of my lawyer).
  • My various Reclaim the Power friends who were collectively sued by French power company EDF for £5 million pounds after they occupied one of the companies gas fired power station.
And so on.

Somehow don't think any of this would be the case if I volunteered for Oxfam or Amnesty International.


The obvious question is why?

The easiest answer is because we're the ones who play the dangerous

You steam into a farmer's field a four in the morning it's no surprise he gets spikey. We should just count ourselves lucky he left his twelve bore at home. Same if you mess with the Russians, or take your liberal, towny ways into timber country.

Direct action is the way we do things, which is probably the fault of the original Greenpeacers. Bearded seventies eco-warrior Bob Hunter coined the phrase "media mind bombs" for direct action stunts that were filmed and then broadcast round the world.

However we also need to be honest and say that we do this because we desperately lack the sort of legal and political remedies to our problems. We lie down in the road because it's the only thing we can do.

That is our weakness.

Big Enemies

But that only partly explains the problem.

The Rainbow Warrior would have been a minor distraction for the French military guarding the atoll and nothing they couldn't handle. Similarly the Russian coastguard seemed to have the Arctic Sunrise well covered. Vera Scroggins is clearly no serious threat to anyone's fracking rig. Earth First!'s blockades in California were annoying, but they were hardly bringing the logging industry to their knees and Reclaim the Power weren't going to bankrupt EDF.

So why the overkill?

With hindsight the Rainbow Warrior is the one that stands out. The nuclear tests were a bit of willy-waving by a fading military power. It hardly seems worth killing for, but then I'm not the self-obsessed president of a former imperial nation.

However if you look at the other cases it all becomes clearer. One thing that links Arctic oil, fracking,
privatised power and clearcutting, is that they all make money. Serious amounts of money. We are stepping on some very big toes.

But what really links all them all is the complete lack of a moral case.

Who, apart from a French nationalist, could claim reducing a pacific island to radioactive mess is good thing to do? Who, apart a Russian nationalist, can make a case for Arctic oil? Who, but a Climate Change denier, could argue for fracking or for more fossil fuel power stations. Who really supports clearcutting?

And when you're whole case is based on a fraud you never compromise. You can always torture one less person, always give a bit more aid. But give an inch to the the Green lobby? That would be to admit that the Emperor really did have no clothes.

So when serious money, or serious ego, lacks moral force, it falls back on physical force.

And that is their weakness.

Sunday, 5 July 2015


Speech to Manchester Greek Solidarity Day Rally

Καλό απόγευμα Μάντσεστερ. Σήμερα βρισκόμαστε με την Ελλάδα.

Good afternoon Manchester. Today we stand with Greece.

We hear that Greece needs to pay its debts. But what of the debt we owe to Greece?

The legacy of Classical Greece is incalculable. They were the greatest thinkers, scientists, artists and, it is often forgotten, engineers of Ancient Europe. But what about the debt we owe to modern Greece?

On 28 October 1940 they rejected Mussolini's ultimatum and joined the Second World War. for the first time since the Fall of France Britain had an ally in the war on fascism, and an ally that could win battles.The Italians couldn't beat them so the Germans had to. That delayed Operation Barbarossa by five weeks, meaning when the snow came in the winter of 1941 the Nazi's panzers were still fifteen miles from Moscow.

The Communist Greek guerrillas continued to fight and as a result of fighting, famine, massacres and
the Holocaust, up to 800,000 Greeks died during the war, or more than one in ten of the population. Proportionately only Poland suffered more.

Their reward from Winston Churchill, was the re-arming of the Nazi Security Battalions with British
weapons, which they turned on their fellow citizens. The communist party was banned and many were exiled, some only returning in the 1980s.

In 1967 the military seized power. It took Britain a whole 24 hours before we recognised the Colonels as government. More repression of the Left followed.

And so on.

But I don't want to end it there. Because there are links between Britain and Greece we should be proud of, and times that people from this country have stood side with the Greeks.

The Greek revolt against the Ottoman Empire was mostly funded by a private committee in England. Our greatest Romantic poet, Lord Byron went out to fight and died in Greece. By the end of the war our greatest living sailor commanded the Hellenic Navy. The mightiest ship in their fleet, possibly in the world, was Karteria, built in London and Captained by Frank Hastings from Leicestershire. The head of their army was Irish by the way.

Greece eventually gained her freedom when the commander of a Royal Navy squadron sent to observe the situation took it upon himself to wipe out the Turkish navy. The Duke of Wellington sacked him, but the Greeks names several streets after him.

During the Second World War, whilst Greece starved, a group of Quakers met in Oxford to do something about it. Ignoring the government that opposed sending any aid to an occupied county, they raised over £10,000 for the Greek Red Cross. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief eventually changed its name to Oxfam, and continues to help victims of war today, but it all started in Greece.

In 1961 the lawyer Peter Benison wrote an article in The Observer on The Forgotten Prisoners, highlighting six people around the world imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs. Amongst them was Toni Ambatielos, a Greek Communist arrested for his Trade Union activities. The article led to the creation of Amnesty International. Ambatielos was released in 1963.

Syriza, for the most part it seems, studied in this country. Two of their central committee still work in British universities. Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Finance Minister, has worked for University of Essex, the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge. His wife studied sculpture at St Martin's College in London where she met a young Jarvis Cocker and may have inspired the 90s anthem Common People.

Then there is my connection with Greece. Jarvis Cocker wasn't the only 'lanky northern git' to meet a
Greek student. I have a message for you from her today:

"We can't say Yes to lose our freedom and hope for our children. Doing the same mistake twice is not a wise thing to do! If we allow them to rule our life we will become animals."

There has always been a connection between Britain and Greece. But this is not an alliance of governments, but of ordinary people who want to make the world a better place. That's why I am very proud to stand her today with all of you, with my friend Maria, with all the Common People of Greece but also with everyone else around the world, whoever they are and wherever they may be, who supports justice and fairness and who believes that the debts of courage and friendship human beings owe to each other are far more important than the money we owe to the banks.