Fifty years ago today a small group of ordinary people set sail from Canada on a rusty fishing boat bound for a small Alaskan island to put themselves in the path of a nuclear bomb.
Today, as we mark 50 years since Greenpeace’s founding voyage, we stand on a precipice. The impacts of climate change and biodiversity collapse are already taking their toll on people and ecosystems around the world. This destruction is enabled by power structures and mindsets which far too often put pollution and profit in front of people and planet.
This is not a time when it feels right to celebrate, but it is a time to remember the past so we can look to the future with hope, and with action.
Today we need huge, unprecedented change. For billions to unite as a movement, taking action around the world and demanding a green and peaceful future.
And it is possible.
The last 50 years of Greenpeace is the story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, but we were never a lone hero, we have always been part of a movement of people willing to combine their dream of a better future with action. We find that same hope when we trace our roots back to the peace, environment, youth, anti-war, civil rights, and women’s rights movements, we find that same hope in the campaigns and actions we see happening around the world today.
When our founders fused the words ‘green’ and ‘peace’ they sought to address a complex relationship – that we are part of nature, not apart from it, and that there can be no green without peace or peace without green.
When Marie Bohlen suggested sailing a boat into a nuclear test zone, to what was then called the Don’t Make A Wave Committee, nobody who agreed intended to create an organization.
But they did intend to reach people, they were thinking about more than just that nuclear test, they hoped their action would inspire millions of people and that it would not only stop the one test, but that it would disrupt and change the whole system.
That first voyage opened up the hearts and consciousness of others, inspired them, and helped them find ways to show their own courage.
That is the power of people taking action. People have extraordinary power if they stand together, if they demand a better world, promote and nurture it, and to lay siege to those who would deny it.
Over the last weeks and months I have listened to many stories from those who have been part of Greenpeace over the years. This is a moment to pay tribute to those who came before we were a global organisation, before email, back in the days when the crew of the first Rainbow Warrior would have to take on jobs in a local cannary to pay for fuel.
They blazed the path, built bridges, and created allies we stand alongside today. They changed the world in many ways, from the moratorium on whaling and stopping nuclear testing to the Antarctic Treaty and the banning of toxic dumping at sea. They changed Greenpeace in many more ways – from a small group of predominantly male, white, Canadians and Americans taking action on local issues to a globally diverse organisation operating in every continent on earth and working on root causes – the very power structures and mindsets which enable ongoing environmental destruction.
They learned hard lessons about how to become a better, more diverse, more just and equitable, and more effective organisation.
They made mistakes, and we will too, those will be the lessons we pass to the next generation of Greenpeace, to the next generation of the movement.
Most importantly they prepared us for today.
This moment in history demands a Greenpeace which is the best it has ever been, the most creative, the most determined, the most effective.
But we are ready. With our allies, our campaigners, our activists, our tens of millions of supporters around the world, and with the billions who we hope will join the fight – we are ready.
I am here to put my hope into action.
Jennifer Morgan took the helm of Greenpeace International in April 2016. She was formerly the Global Director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute. A climate activist, she has been a leader of large teams at major organisations, and her other ports of call have included the Worldwide Fund for Nature, Climate Action Network, and E3G.