A long time ago, when the web was young, a mysterious box arrived at the secret mountain headquarters of Greenpeace International. I was working then as the director of what we called “New Media.” New Media was anything that involved a computer, and I and a team of freshly minted digital ninjas were running around with our hair on fire telling anyone who would listen that this “World Wide Web thing” was going to be HUGE if we could all collectively get over the idea that it was just a new way to deliver press releases.
The box was addressed to Karen & Ludmilla, the inseparable duo who made up our Supporter Services team. Karen recognised the name on the return address: it was from “Grateful Child,” a frequent correspondent, contributor to our online bulletin board and commenter on our website. Wes, as we eventually came to know him, was one of those voices that was consistently positive and upbeat and helpful. He’d field questions about the organisation from other posters knowledgeably, bring context to a discussion with a nugget of activist history or eastern philosophy, provide a deep link into our website when someone wanted to know more, and post wonderful, hippy-themed promotions of our content and online actions at his own website. In short, he was one of those supporters who crossed over that weird imaginary barrier all of us who work for organisations draw up between “us” — the folks within the bricks and mortar of an organisation — and “them,” the audience and supporters that we speak to when we blog, create web content, send press releases, talk at from the other side of a lens.
For all of us working to stop global warming, 2015 will be looked back upon as the year we pushed Big Oil and King Coal hard enough that they at last took their first, inevitably fatal steps backwards. They have loomed large — mythologically large — as teflon-shielded, weaponised giants. Petroleum vampires towering over our capital cities, their teeth deep in the neck of our governments, feasting on blood and money. Mighty coal gorillas beating their chests atop mountains they’d decapitated, throwing boulders down upon the villages below. Governments bowed down before them and did their bidding. They smirked and threw fistfuls of gold at the feet of our cultural and scientific institutes and ordered them to sing their praises. And for three decades, they seemed unassailable; impervious to the forces of democracy and the liliputian non-violent armies that dared oppose them.
Personally, I see four major events in 2015 challenged that story.
It’s not perfect. It doesn’t yet mean the end of the dig, burn, and dump consumer culture. And it will require difficult decisions by risk-averse politicians. But it spells the end of the era of fossil fuels, and let’s face it, people, we worked hard for decades to get this. So I’m disappointed when I search #Celebrate #Cop21 that I don’t see spontaneous celebrations in the streets of every city in the world. But it looks like there was a damn fine party in Paris, well deserved, and we can all virtually do low-carbon high fives. And while you’re at it, why not tip your favorite climate activist with BitCoin via ChangeTip, and let’s get the bankless future started. I’m sending tips called “Cop21 Toasts” to folks in Paris and around the world who propelled this day forward in so many ways. Pass it forward. So many people in so many places around the world were a part of the great slow tidal wave that brought this agreement forward. So many people have suffered and sacrificed and stood up. Let’s not let this escape notice: we’re changing the story of the future. This day was another scrap of evidence that the great ship, forest-masted and sun-soaked in its voyage through space, has a chance.
Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. –Herman Melville, Moby Dick
I’ve just walked up the gangway onto the Rainbow Warrior here in Keelung, Taiwan. Four years ago nearly to the day, I sailed upon this ship’s maiden voyage. It was an immeasurably magical experience, marked by extraordinary companions.
I recently noted the coincidence of dates on Facebook, and a friend responded with something beautiful: “Life loves to walk us in circles.”
SPOILERALERT: If you’ve not read The Man in the High Castle, the following contains plot element spoilers.
The Man in the High Castle manages to jam three of my favorite things into a single novel. First, it’s by Philip K. Dick, who may not have been the greatest crafter of prose in the world, but imagined some of the most enduring science fiction tales in English literature. Second, it not only features the I-Ching, Dick claims that it was actually in part written by the I-Ching. He says he used the book of changes as a creative guide, ceding decision making about many aspects of the narrative to the text of the hexagrams. And third, he may have made that whole thing up in order to create a mind-bending metafiction. Or not.
Now, to break down the central meta-fiction we’re dealing with here:
The Man in the High Castle is a book written by Phillip K. Dick with the help of the I-Ching about an alternative history in which Japan and Germany won World War II. Central to the book is another book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is a novel written with the help of the I-Ching about an alternative to THAT alternative history in which Japan and Germany lost World War II.
In a nice twist, the television series coming out on Amazon Prime in November 2015 renders The Grasshopper Lies Heavy as a film instead of a book, neatly transporting the parallel mirror effect to the medium in which the story is told.
If that’s not meta enough, there are points in the plot where the I-Ching features as a doorway between worlds — two characters cast paired hexagrams, in different places at the same time, linked by a single changing line. Another character finds himself eerily transported into a surreal vision of San Francisco which may be the one in which Dick was actually writing the book — or at least one in which Japan had lost WWII — through a piece of jewelry crafted by the character who throws the identical hexagram. The hexagrams that are cast in the book all predict the future or shape the behaviour of characters, and (if he’s to be believed) were actually cast by Dick in order to determine plot movement and character behaviour.
I was so grateful to present the keynote at the Amsterdam Dance Event Innovation Battle at ADE Green yesterday, and to learn more about the amazing strides forward that are being made in reducing the footprint of big festivals. Eight major Dutch festivals signed up to a landmark agreement with the Dutch environment ministry to go waste-free. I caught a panel where Rob Scully talking about the 100% renewable energy solutions for Greenfields at Glastonbury, Govert Reeskamp talked about creating miniature festival-sized smart grids. There were lightning talks about everything from a generator that creates electricity from urine to Julie’s Bicycle talking about how big data can help big festivals be kinder to the Earth. Open House put innovation challenges out that asked entrepreneurs to come up with ways to distribute tap water to avoid plastic bottle waste, and there was an innovation dedicated to solving a problem I didn’t know existed: tent waste. Apparently a vast number of people buy tents new for use at festivals, use them for a couple days, and leave them behind where they end up as landfill.
Open House’s Innovation Battle was a kind of Dragon’s Den — ideas got pitched and then interrogated by a panel of judges made up of Jim Stoltz, founder of Tedx Amsterdam, Sander Bijlstra of Q-dance, Patrick van der Pijl of Business Models Inc, and Jan Willem van der Meer, founder of Paylogic.
I was particularly pleased to see who won the battle, and why.
This was the original text of my keynote at the ADE Green Innovation Battle. Had to cut some, forgot some, and mangled some in what I actually said.
Hello. I’m from Greenpeace. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to chain myself to anything or hang a banner on your stage. I’m here to do what we activists don’t do often enough: applaud. Applaud in particular your Innovation Battles: Energy to Enjoy, Waste No More, Water for Everyone. In fact, those would make fine Greenpeace banners, better than we often do ourselves: short, sharp, positive.
When I was first asked to do this Keynote I really wasn’t sure what the common ground between environmentalism and dance events and festivals was. But I talked to Carlijn Lindemulder of ID&T and Barbara Vos of Open House and heard about all of the sustainability efforts going on in this industry, and all the people you reach with those efforts, and I realised you’re all running tiny experiments in different ways of living and being. Every festival is a small synthetic utopia – we all know when we have that experience of not wanting to leave, of asking why can’t every day be like this? How can I make this vibe and this tribe a part of my daily being? Those of us who have been to an event that we didn’t want to leave know that feeling — the idea of Woodstock nation, of Fusion forever, Glastonbury 365, of a world that looks more like Burning Man – magical worlds where we celebrate more, dance more, and experience the primal bonds of being one tribe revelling in creativity, kindness, love, and the courage to be joyful. Continue reading “My keynote at the Amsterdam Dance Event Innovation Battle”
The Director of How To Change the World, Jerry Rothwell, kindly let the Greenpeace International staff in Amsterdam have a sneak peek at his Sundance-award winning documentary of the early days of Greenpeace. It’s a brilliant, funny, and moving story. It’s also the only documentary I’ve seen that’s done justice to the organisation’s mystic hippy roots. Aside from the standard cosmic adventures of the early 70s, the film documents the ritual casting of three Chinese coins that was once an accepted form of decision-making in those pre-organogram days: the I-Ching.
If you don’t know it, The I-Ching or “Book of Changes” is an ancient Chinese oracle and book of wisdom. It was used to describe the present, understand the past, and predict the future in something close to its present form as early as 600 BC. But elements of it appear in China as early as the Hsia Dynasty (2205 — 1766 BC). Like The Bible, the book is the result of a layering of many texts by many authors (Confucius and Lao Tzu among them) and there is no widespread agreement on its authorship or birthdate. It was a standard text you might find in any North American hippy’s concrete-block bookshelves alongside the works of Alan Ginsberg Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Carlos Castaneda, and Tolkien. The reason it might have been there might vary from hippy to hippy though: for some, it was a beautiful exposition of Eastern philosophy. For others, it was a doorway to the subconscious through archetypal imagery and elemental poetry. For still others, it was believed to have powers of divination.
Bob Hunter, the Vancouver journalist/activist who led the early organisation and is at the centre of the documentary, chronicled many consultations of The Book in his Warriors of the Rainbow, the text of which provides’ much of the film’s narration. Decisions about who would join the crew, what the outcome of a journey might be, and even where a ship should go were often made by tossing three coins six times to generate a hexagram of broken and solid lines.
My own decision to join Greenpeace full time was helped along by a reading I did in 1982. I’d cut down on my hours at a good paying job to make room for volunteering at a crazy place called Greenpeace New England in Boston. I was canvassing Saturdays and a night or two a week, which brought in a little money in commissions, but spending most of my time helping out around the cavernous warehouse of an office. There were only two paid staff, and the rest of us did everything else: maintained boats, designed actions, fixed the photo copy machine, answered the phone. We were building something powerful, and I wanted to be a bigger part of that creative pressure cooker of a place, but it would mean trading in the day job, a secure income, and warm, dry, book-lined environment for the uncertainty of the street, the weather, and the very real possibility I was getting into something that was going to get me arrested. But I knew it was time to either commit or quit. I did what any mystic hippy would do: I cast the I-Ching. Continue reading “Mystic Hippies and the I-Ching: App of Changes”
The most difficult challenge facing humanity is not devising solutions to the energy crisis or climate crisis or population crisis; rather, it is bringing images and stories of the human journey into our collective awareness that empower us to look beyond a future of great adversity and to see a future of great opportunity. -Duane Elgin
That was the note on which we started, the pitch pipe to which 30 people in the room adjusted their frequencies as we began a four day adventure into the unknown. Our band of adventurers included the usual suspects: the marine biologists, ex-fisherman, political judoists, an activist climber, a volunteer coordinator, sailors and salty dogs, the people you would expect Greenpeace to gather to plan some creative mischief in the name of Mother Ocean. But on this trip, we brought other adventurer-guides: a poet, a visual artist, some storytellers, and a beekeeper. Continue reading “A way of being, a way of meeting”
Greenpeace’s campaign to get LEGO to sever its relationship with Shell prompted me to reach out to the maker community on one of my favorite sites, Instructables.com, with this little project. It’s a Shell oil rig being boarded peacefully by a little LEGO minifig who celebrates every time someone tweets the campaign hashtag, #BLOCKSHELL, by making some noise, flashing a light, and sending the little activist dude up his climbing rope. The instructable for how to make it is here.
But seriously, LEGO, building this reminded me of just what an amazing toy you have, and what a huge responsibility you have to be inspiring human ingenuity among old and young alike to do something about the crisis our planet faces, rather than let the halo effect of your wonderful brand get used by an oil company to make more money on its destruction. LEGO, do the awesome thing. Stand up for the future of the kids you inspire.
The first image that flashed into my head was the picture at right from July of 1982. You were celebrating the hard-won victory in the International Whaling Commission, when they declared a moratorium on commercial whaling — the culmination of years of work that you, Greenpeace, and dozens of other groups and individuals had done in public, as well as behind the scenes, below the decks, and under the table. At the time, you thought that was it, that you’d won, and that Japan’s whaling programme was over.
It wasn’t, of course. Japan would simply disguise their programme as science. You and Greenpeace would fight on — you to the end of your days, Greenpeace for decades after you passed, along with an entire movement that sprung up from those first mist-shrouded voyages to save the whales.
Today’s announcement means that whales in the Southern Ocean won’t be hunted for the first time in 110 years. We don’t know for sure that Japan has given up entirely. They’ve said they’ll “comply” with the International Court of Justice ruling which declared their current programme, in effect, a sham which contributed nothing to science and killed more whales than science would need. The Japanese Fisheries Agency could still, as they did in 1982, find a loophole big enough to fire a harpoon through, but not this year. The harpoons will stay hooded, the factory ship Nisshin Maru will remain moored, and thousands … tens of thousands… millions of people who worked for this day will celebrate.
If you were alive, I can only imagine how many rum and cokes and bottles of champagne you’d power through tonight. But I know right now you’d be on the phone, and writing letters, and crowing to the press, and saying thank yous. You’d be thanking Paul Spong for convincing Greenpeace to launch a Save the Whales campaign in 1973, Bob Hunter for coming up with the idea of maneuvering tiny boats between the whales and the whalers and so launching the issue as a global “mind bomb” across television sets the world over. You’d thank Paul Watson for the audacious courage he showed with Greenpeace and with Sea Shepherd to end the hunt (yes, you’d have swallowed a lot of pride, but you’d have done that), and while you were clenching your teeth you’d thank Pete Wilkinson and Alan Thornton who were great generals in the war for the whales even if you fell out over their resistance to your command. You’d have thanked Rex Weyler and Fred Easton whose lenses caught those first images of whales dying at sea and the heroics of those who sought to spare them. You’d have remembered how you and Bryan Adams leafleted an entire theatre in Japan when he was playing a concert there, urging the young people of Japan to speak out against the whalers.
You’d have thanked other musicians, from Leonard Bernstein to Paul McCartney to Peter Gabriel to the Waterboys to Midnight Oil to U2 to Steve van Zandt. You’d have appreciated how support for this cause had cut across society, from the people in the streets to royalty like Prince Charles and Prince Saddrudin Aga Khan, adventurers like Jacques Cousteau and Sir Peter Scott. You’d have thanked Kieran Mulvaney and Sara Holden and Dave Walsh and John Bowler and Karli Thomas and Frank Kamp and Irene Berg and Grace O’Sullivan and Andrew Davies and Black Bob and Heath Hanson and Pete Bouquet and everyone who ever sailed aboard a Greenpeace vessel into those cold Antarctic waters to play cat and mouse with the catcher ships, everyone who ever signed a petition or sent a postcard or donated to IFAW or WWF or Friends of the Earth or Earth Island or the Cetacean Society or Greenpeace or any of the NGOs that worked the trenches to Save the Whales. You’d have told people to raise a glass to Sidney Holt and Campbell Plowden and Michael Nielsen and Leslie Busby and Remi Parmentier and John Frizell, who dedicated most of their lives to this cause and spent endless hours in horrible meeting rooms counting votes and lining up political support for various parliamentary judo moves in attempt to counter the bribery and pork projects that the Japanese Fisheries agency brought to bear to buy votes they couldn’t win. You’d have tipped your hat to Steve Sawyer, Kelly Rigg, Patti Forkan, Cassandra Phillips, Domitilla Senni, Michi Mathias, Anne Dingwall, Elaine Lawrence, Cornelia Durrant, Lyall Watson, to Bill de la Mare and Justin Cooke, to the scientists who modelled whale populations, the politicians who had won easy points and made tough stands, the filmmakers who had made films and the writers who had written books and the artists who had created art. You’d have covered your ass about all the names you forgot or left out by mentioning the fact that you’d need an encyclopedia to fit all the names of everyone who did their part, and everyone who walked for whales, fasted for whales, went to jail for whales, baked for whales, did Karaoke for whales, swam for whales, or ran for whales.
You’d have a special place for praise for the dedication and sacrifice of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki of Greenpeace Japan who endured arrest, ostracization, and ridicule in their own country for exposing the theft of subsidized whale meat to line the pockets of corrupt officials, only to have themselves accused of theft for presenting the evidence. And you’d have thanked Peter Garrett and the Australian government of Mark Rudd for having the balls to go to court against Japan and the legal smarts to actually win that high-stakes gamble.
And finally, you’d have told them all to do exactly what you scrawled across that 1982 picture: “Celebrate.”
Celebrate a victory for a threatened planet, and the hope it suggests that if we can save the whales, we can save the world. Celebrate the power of global movements, and the patience and persistence it takes to see the arc of history bend toward justice. Celebrate activism, disobedience, speaking up and acting out. Celebrate courage, and creativity, poetry and song.
That would have been roughly the letter you’d have written, or dictated to me to write for you.
Rest easy, David, and let’s just say you wrote it. Now, let’s you and me go get a drink, knowing there’s a bunch of people out there raising a glass in return to you, and to the cussed dedication with which you worked for this day.
As I write this, friends and colleagues and a ship I love are in custody in Murmansk because they made a stand against big oil.
The place they chose to make their stand was in the Russian Arctic, where Gazprom and Shell are building the first rig to exploit a new opportunity to drill where drilling was once impossible: the newly ice-free waters of the once-frozen North.
Two Greenpeace activists boarded the Prirazlomnaya platform to hang a banner, to throw a spotlight on the dangers of oil drilling in the arctic in particular, and our continued reliance on fossil fuels in general. Gazprom was having none of it. Shots were fired at our activists, knives were brandished at them, the coast guard sent a helicopter with armed agents to seize our entire ship — an illegal act under the Law of the Sea against a Dutch-flagged ship in international waters.
But this wasn’t about law. This was about message. And the message was painfully clear. Our activists and the two journalists accompanying them were told to shut up. With jail cells. With a very public show of force to let us, and everyone else who might consider speaking up against them, know exactly who is boss, and what fate awaits those who might consider this a cause to join. They’re talking to you.
This is the dystopic vision of a world in which democracy has been bought with petrodollars, in which human rights can be suspended,
Aaron Sorkin, I have your next move. You’ve done politics in West Wing — showing us what politicians ought to be as a hopeful glow and glimmer beneath the dull and finely observed clothing of what they really are.
You’ve done journalism. You’ve shown us the honor and integrity of the people who work in The Newsroom and held it up, in every one of those perfectly penned soliloquies by Will McAvoy, as something all of us can aspire to.
It’s time you tackled activism. Yes, I saw that frustrated cheap shot you took at Occupy. But I saw it as tough love. I saw it as the same cocked eyebrow I throw at my own cause, and the organisation I work for, on any given day when idiocy or complacency saps your strength and feeds the teleprompter of your inner voice with soundbites from your worst critics. But you know as well as I do that’s not what’s real. That’s not what’s at the core. What Occupy or Avaaz or Anonymous or 350 or Amnesty at their best have been, and what I saw today from my desk at Greenpeace, is a magic I know you can capture: bruised, unburnished, and with that ever cynical eye that says this isn’t easy stuff, but which resonates at its core with the music of truth. It’s the story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for causes they believe in so deeply that they will go to incredible extremes, risk impossible odds, and keep on believing — sometimes against all evidence — that they can change the world. Continue reading “Aaron Sorkin: #FreeTheArctic30”
This is the (mostly) true story of a story that wanted to come true.
It was February 8th, 1970, and a guy named Jim Bohlen was having breakfast with his wife, Marie, and complaining about what a bunch of hippies he had to deal with. Jim was a member of the Sierra Club in Vancouver.
He was born an American, but he’d moved to Canada to keep his son from being drafted into the Vietnam War, and because of a crisis of conscience about his own job. He was an engineer with Boeing, and had helped design the Atlas Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile, designed to deliver nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union. Like many of the time, he’d become horrified at the prospect of nuclear war, and decided he wanted no part in it.
Vancouver in those days was a hotbed of peacenikkery. And it was particularly bothered about a bomb which the US was going to test at Amchitka in the Aleutian Islands, which wasn’t very neighbourly.
Now this bomb was designed not to test the bomb, but to test the island. The US was trying to figure out what the seismic signal of nuclear weapons were, and how to distinguish a bomb signature from an earthquake signature. So they’d chosen a place where they had seismic data on Earthquakes, because in 1964 the area had experienced the Great Alaska Earthquake, the second largest earthquake recorded in the history of the world at that time, 9.2 on the Richter scale. The Tsunami it set off travelled all the way across the Pacific, and did damage as far away as Hawaii and Japan. 133 people died, and Vancouver suffered millions of dollars in property damage.
So let’s say there was some concern about the idea of setting off a bomb 400 times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, drilled into the Earth over a major fault line, on an island, in order to test seismic reactions. You take that and you combine it with the fact that this is Richard Nixon testing a weapon of mass destruction in the backyard of the greatest concentration of war resistors, peace activists, and hippies ever assembled in one place, and you get some idea of the scale of resistance these tests were facing in Vancouver.
But they’d done everything they thought a protest movement could do. They’d picketed the border. They’d waved signs. They’d signed petitions. They’d asked Canada to officially complain. And the war machine ignored them.