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The granddaddy of environmental direct action is Greenpeace. This organization has long functioned as a kind of protest “skunkworks,” dedicated to finding ever-more-unorthodox strategies for activists to use to confront their opponents. Examine the current activities of any radical group protesting capitalism, corporations or globalization and it’s likely that Greenpeace pioneered their tactics. A September 2001Boston Globe article summarized the standard Greenpeace methods of operation: “…rappelling down skyscrapers, occupying abandoned oil rigs, and putting inflatable dinghies between whales and hunters with harpoons.” This is one group that has done it all.
Started in 1971 by activists in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Vancouver, Canada, it is now an international organization, headquartered in the Netherlands, with 41 national affiliates and a global membership of 2.8 million. Greenpeace’s reach is world-wide, stretching through the developed world and into many Third World states as well. The total revenue that Greenpeace International (GI), the group’s central coordinating body, takes in each year has been estimated at around $50 million; GI is believed to have around $17 million in assets. The group used to be much larger in terms of membership. As one analyst of Greenpeace’s fortunes has noted, “at its peak in the mid-1980s, the organization had more than 5 million supporters worldwide—including celebrities such as Sting, Sir Elton John and Tom Jones, who supported its save the- rainforest campaigns.” By 1994, its membership stood at 4 million. By 2000, it was estimated at 2.4 million—so the latest figure of 2.8 million indicates it may have turned the corner. Some people within the group believe Greenpeace’s obsession with “direct action” may be what drove those numbers down. “The public is bored with seeing us chaining ourselves to ships and cranes,” one anonymous activist told Britain’s Sunday Times in 2000. “The trouble is, that’s what we do best.”