The Washington Times’ May 5 editorial, “French Spies and Greenpeace,” failed to mention a salient point - when agents of the French government detonated mines beneath our flagship Rainbow Warrior in 1985, they killed Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira. Mr. Pereira was the only person who ever died in relation to Greenpeace activities - and he was killed by our opponents.
When it was attacked, the Rainbow Warrior was in the Pacific to protest nuclear-weapons testing by the French government. In fact, just weeks before the sinking, the ship evacuated a community from Rongelap Atoll, a small island still suffering the devastating effects of radiation poisoning dating back to American nuclear testing in the 1950s.
Nuclear testing may have been legal in the 1980s, but it was not right. Today, killing whales, dumping toxic waste and filling the atmosphere with so much global-warming pollution that it has altered the Earth’s very climate are in many cases “legal” activities, but they are not right. Thus, we will continue to oppose these and other wrongs against people and the planet, even if it strikes some as misguided. Twenty-four years after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, few would suggest nuclear testing is a good idea. We believe history is on our side.
The Times also made the outrageous accusation that Greenpeace has committed arson and, in its online edition, compared us to Nazi Brownshirts. When we expose the wrongdoing of industrial whalers, polluters and others who would do senseless harm to the Earth, we do it in the spirit of truth and with the practice of peaceful protest. Arson is indisputably a violent and dangerous act that Greenpeace would neither commit nor condone.
In fact, our organization was founded on the Quaker principle of “bearing witness” - the practice of peacefully exposing activities that threaten people or the Earth with harm. By bearing witness to wrongdoing - and by calling on our fellow citizens to bear witness - we shine the light of day in an effort to end these destructive practices.
Now we learn that Electricite de France, the French nuclear-power corporation, has illegally hacked our computers. One can understand why we still shiver when the words “French,” “nuclear” and “infiltrate” are used in the same sentence regarding Greenpeace.
Yet, according to The Times, the corporation’s behavior is “Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” Again, the editorial writers miss the point. Greenpeace does sometimes commit peaceful civil disobedience that entails breaking the law, but we do it in the tradition of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and we accept full responsibility for our actions. We do it in the light of day.
In contrast, Electricite de France - and the legion of polluters like them - act in the dark of night. EDF and corporate polluters hope their deeds remain forever unwitnessed.
Fortunately, many corporations have seen the light, and work with Greenpeace and other environmental groups to find solutions to the problems that face us all. Today, to cite one example, our “Greenfreeze” technology, which cuts climate impacts by using state-of-the-art coolants, is now used in more than 300 million refrigerator units around the world. Coke, Pepsi and Unilever recently partnered with us to bring this technology to the United States.
Although Greenpeace is an advocacy organization, we are not adversarial. As King and Gandhi taught us, we must not only refuse to hurt opponents, but we must also refuse to hate them. To solve the environmental crises of the 21st century, we do not seek to vanquish our opponents - we seek to convert them, because we will need their help.
Like Mr. Pereira, many at Greenpeace are willing to risk personal harm for the causes in which we believe. His murder was senseless and tragic. But we think if we continue to peacefully bear witness to protect people and the planet, his death will not have been in vain.
Phil Radford is executive director of Greenpeace USA.