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

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.

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