This morning, while most of the Netherlands was still asleep, my colleague Nilus and I - along with dozens of Greenpeace activists - slipped into Rotterdam’s port facilities. The temperature is just eight degrees celsius, my first time ever being this cold.
IOI Palm Oil Company Blockade in Rotterdam Harbour, 27 Sept 2016
Our mission must not fail: we are blockading the entry of dirty palm oil to IOI’s refineries. IOI is one of the largest palm oil companies in the world.
Thousands of kilometres away from Rotterdam, in our hometown, in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, forest fires occur every year. Fire has destroyed the peat forests and brought orangutans closer to extinction. IOI opens up palm oil plantations by drying out the peat, which makes it very flammable, leading to haze-making infernos.
Residents near burning peat forest in the village of Teluk Meranti, Pelalawan, Riau, 4 Mar 2014
I have known Nilus for several years. He has two children who live in Ketapang, where IOI has damaged the peat, leading to enormous fires. Nilus and his family have been breathing in peat smoke for years.
Haze covers children's playground in Central Kalimantan, 24 Oct, 2015
I came to Rotterdam to take action. To block this palm oil from entering Europe. The world must know the human cost contained in the products they consume every day. IOI’s palm oil is dirty and damaged. IOI must stop destroying Indonesia's peat forests.
IOI Palm Oil Company Blockade in Rotterdam Harbour, 27 Sep, 2016
Together, Nilus and I have joined a fire-fighting teams formed by Greenpeace Indonesia. The team is composed of 20 volunteers from several regions across my country. We are not only trained in how to extinguish fires, but much more importantly, trained in how to prevent fires. We do this because we want to end this era of fires and haze in Indonesia. Extinguishing fires is hard work, but it is important to protect the forests and peatlands. More importantly, palm oil companies need to make sure they do not create the conditions that allow fires to start so easily.
Orangutan Rescued in West Kalimantan, 18 Sep, 2015
Millions of people should not have their health damaged by smoke and fires just because plantation companies such as IOI destroy forests for their own profit.
Today we showed the world who IOI really is and the threat they are to my country’s forests and my people’s health. But beating these fires is not over. Now Nilus and I return to Indonesia to continue to protect out forests from companies like IOI.
Aerial view of fires at the forest and palm oil plantation in peatland area of Pangkalan Terap, Teluk Meranti, Pelalawan regency, Riau.
Decades of forest destruction by palm oil and paper companies laid the foundations for 2015’s Indonesian forest fires. The Indonesian government responded with a firm commitment to crack down on rogue companies. Hundreds of thousands of us pushed brands like Colgate to toughen up their ‘no deforestation’ policies.
But while some progress has been made, some of the biggest palm oil traders are still sitting on their hands. One particular company, called IOI, has been making and breaking promises on forest protection for almost 10 years. It is one of the biggest palm oil importers in Europe and used to supply big brands like Nestlé and Unilever.
It’s difficult to trace palm oil, but no doubt IOI’s palm oil ends up in some of the toothpaste we use or the biscuits we eat.
IOI get away with all of this by remaining in the shadows. Unlike consumer-facing companies — which have listened to public concern and started to say no to dirty palm oil — IOI have zero public brand to worry about.
IOI is one of the worst companies you’ve never heard of. But we’re going to change that. We have to make sure that people across the world know about IOI — and for all the wrong reasons. Only then will IOI feel global pressure to change — and only then can we help to stem these destructive fires.
So here’s a quick run-down on how three small letters are destroying the rainforest—and when you’re done reading, please share this so that IOI can no longer get away with it.
Tree stump near a drainage canal on the boundary area of PT Bumi Sawit Sejahtera (IOI) oil palm concession in Ketapang, West Kalimantan.
FOREST FIRES ARE A MASSIVE PROBLEM FOR INDONESIA — AND THE GLOBAL CLIMATE.
Indonesia suffers from terrible forest fires, with large areas of the country burning between August and November each year. The Indonesian government estimates that 1.7 million hectares of land — an area slightly smaller than Wales — burned in 2015.
Deforestation and forest fires are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions for Indonesia, which is one of the world’s biggest polluters despite being less developed than other nations. Last year, the fires produced more CO2 in just a few months than the UK does annually.
FOREST FIRES CAUSE A MASSIVE HEALTH CRISIS FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA.
Each year, smoke from the fires causes a thick haze to spread across Indonesia and the surrounding countries, leaving people and animals struggling to breathe. This is a major health crisis. The government estimates that half million people in Indonesia were treated for respiratory tract infections. Recently, scientists from Harvard and Columbia universities calculated 100,300 people in Southeast Asia died prematurely last year as a result of haze pollution caused by forest fires.
A group of children play outdoors without wearing any protection while the air is engulfed with thick haze
IOI CUTS DOWN PRECIOUS RAINFOREST.
IOI have a long history of forest destruction. Greenpeace first exposed its deforestation in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) in 2008. Since then, IOI have converted tens of thousands of hectares into palm oil plantations — including the home of endangered orangutans. Having destroyed most of the forest in its own plantation areas, IOI is still buying palm oil from companies that are still clearing.
Deforestation is a huge problem in Indonesia. Over just 25 years, more than a quarter of Indonesia’s forests have disappeared. Palm oil companies are not only one of the main causes of Indonesia’s decreasing rainforest, but they are also linked to the astonishing decline in orangutans and other endangered species like tigers. There are as few as 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, and experts are now warning that orangutans could completely die out within 10 years.
IOI IGNORE THE RISK OF FIRES
Not only does forest destruction threaten endangered animals, but it’s a leading cause of forest fires in Indonesia. To make matters worse, IOI is draining peat swamps. Swampy peat doesn’t burn easily, but dry peat is extremely flammable.
Fires on peatland have a devastating impact on the environment, releasing carbon dioxide that’s been in the ground over thousands of years. Yet despite major fires on its land last year (and in previous years) IOI hasn’t stopped draining peat swamps. Ignoring these glaringly obvious risks is not good enough for a global palm oil company with a responsibility to protect people, primates and planet.
Residents rescue a 7-month old orangutan from the forest fires.
IOI CAPITALISE ON THE FIRES
Palm oil companies are regularly accused of slash-and-burn: setting fires deliberately to clear land so they can plant oil palm seeds. The Indonesian government tried to stop this destructive practice by ordering companies to restore any land that was burnt by forest fires.
IOI have a history of conflicts with local people. The Long Teran Kanan community in Malaysia, whose land was taken from them in 1996 and developed into palm oil plantations, has been trying to get IOI to recognise their rights for over six years.
The company has also been accused of abusing its workers — taking their passports and restricting their right to join a trade union. They also have been reported to pay many of them less than the minimum wage.
Indonesian police designates this a “crime scene”.
…AND THE INDUSTRY LETS THEM GET AWAY WITH IT
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) — set up by NGOs, palm oil companies and their customers — is supposed to be a tough industry watchdog. But it’s pretty toothless. The RSPO has known about IOI for years, but only suspended them in April. Then it quickly re-admitted the company in August — before IOI had even started to repair the damage it had done.
…BUT WE WON’T
It doesn’t have to be like this. Palm oil can actually be produced responsibly! Indonesia’s rainforest and its orangutans are dramatically decreasing, while the demand for palm oil only gets bigger, so the solution is simple: IOI and companies like them must change and start protecting rainforests.
We’re calling on IOI to stop its palm oil suppliers destroying rainforests, repair the damage they’ve already done, start protecting its workers and local communities & appoint an independent auditor to help them keep these promises.
In August 2016, Prestel Books published Photos That Changed the World, including this image of the Greenpeace Brent Spar campaign, captured by David Sims on 16 June 1995.
Greenpeace approaches Brent Spar, 1995, dodging a Shell water cannon. Photo by David Sims, Greenpeace. Selected for "Photos that Changed the World," from Prestel Books.
The story begins in the 1950s, when Royal Dutch Shell found oil near Groningen, in Permian sandstone linked to North Sea formations. By 1971, Shell had located the giant Brent oilfield in the North Sea, 220km east of Shetland Islands. The Brent field produced a valuable, low sulphur crude, and set the standard for the European, or "Brent", oil price.
In 1976, Shell constructed the Brent Spar, a floating oil storage tank, 147 metres tall, with thick steel walls, holding up to 300,000 barrels of crude oil. The Shell team had damaged the tank during installation, and doubts remained regarding its structural integrity. Four years later, Shell constructed a pipeline from the deep sea field to the mainland, making the spar redundant. In 1991, with no use for the Brent Spar, Shell applied to the UK government to dump the installation into the North Sea.
In addition to crude oil, the giant piece of industrial garbage contained PCBs, heavy metals, and radioactive waste. Dismantling the Brent Spar on land would cost an estimated £41 million. Deep sea disposal, exploding and sinking the spar, would cost an estimated £19 million. Shell had some 400 additional platforms in the North Sea that they would eventually have to scrap. Dumping them all in the sea could save the company about £8 billion. They presented the planned dumping to the British government as a "test case".
The UK Ministry of Energy gave Shell full support to dump Brent Spar at North Feni Ridge, 250km from the northwest coast of Scotland, in 2500 metres of water. Shell claimed that sinking it would have only a "localised" effect in a region that offered "little resource value".
Shell planned to tow the spar North of the Shetland Islands to Feni Ridge for dumping.
Earlier, in 1978, Greenpeace had confronted the ship Gem, dumping European radioactive waste into the North Atlantic. In 1993, the London Dumping Commission, with 70 member nations, passed a worldwide ban against radioactive waste dumping at sea.
A year later, in December 1994, Gijs Thieme in the UK Greenpeace office heard about the planned disposal of the Brent Spar, and urged his colleagues to launch another campaign. The North Sea Environmental Ministers had planned a conference for 1995 in Esbjerg, Denmark, just as Shell planned to dump the Brent Spar. The Greenpeace activists seized the moment to extend the dumping ban to include installations such as the spar. Thieme, Remi Parmentier in France, and Harald Zindler in Germany planned a campaign to occupy the spar and disrupt Shell's plans. Rose Young — an American activist working with the Northern European Nuclear Information Group in the Shetland Islands — organized campaign logistics from the Shetlands. The activists based the campaign on a simple principle: "The sea is not a dustbin."
On 29 February 1995, Greenpeace vessel Moby Dick Left Lerwick in Shetland for Brent Field. A month later, on 30 April, Greenpeace activists occupied the Brent Spar, maintained their presence for three weeks, took samples from the oil storage tanks, and called for a ban of Shell service stations.
Images moved across European and world media, showing Shell security and British police spraying the protesters with water cannons, as Greenpeace relief teams flew in by helicopter. Demonstrations broke out across Europe, the German Ministry of the Environment protested the dumping plan and, on 15 May at the G7 summit, German chancellor Helmut Kohl publicly protested to British Prime Minister John Major. In June, eleven nations at the Oslo and Paris Commission meetings called for a moratorium on sea disposal of offshore installations.
Shell and the British government defied public sentiment, and on 10 June, Shell began towing the spar to the Feni Ridge disposal site. Consumers boycotted Shell stations across Europe. In Germany Shell lost some 50 percent of sales.
In May 1995, Shell succeeded in removing the spar occupiers. At the end of May, Eric Heijselaar, working in a Dutch climbing shop, got a phone call from Greenpeace: "Do you want to help us re-take the Brent Spar?" A week later, he stood on the deck of the Greenpeace ship Altair, skippered by Jon Castle, gazing out at the North Sea. Heijselaar kept a journal, and his account takes us into the maelstrom:
Eric Heijselaar's journal
13/06/95: I had the 04.00 to 06.00 watch. Drove in the Lecomte to the Brent Spar at 10.30. Sea is calm. Sea? I'm sorry, North Atlantic. Bloody hell, a couple of days ago I was selling walking boots.
There's a police helicopter above us, trying to serve us an injunction. They tried to throw in onto the heli-deck. Kevin and I used the fire hose to wash it away. Faik finally managed to get rid of it without touching. You touch, you're served!
14/06/95: Last night on the bridge: Jon: "Yes Eric, I think you're the type who can do this sort of job. Would you like to give it a try with Al?" Scary stuff.
We have journalists on board, some are wearing "Don't dump the Brent Spar" stickers. From a BBC journalist: "Wow, this is more fun than Lockerbie!"
15/06/95: Al, me, and Harald will fly out with the helicopter on Friday morning. First light. How we are gonna do this with all those water cannons is not clear yet. Since the word spread that me and Al are preparing to retake the Spar, there have been a lot of sick jokes from the "heavies"on board.
21/06/95: At our first try to get onto the Spar we had all the boats in the water for a frontal attack. Harald, Al and me in the heli, right above the platform.
Water cannons prevent us from landing or getting close to the platform. Just as the pilot decides to turn back to the ship. The helicopter is hit. We swing around violently. This is my first time in a helicopter. Everybody is pale and silent. Grim faces.
Back on the ship. We decide to give it a second try. Just me and Al Baker. We take off. The pilot sees a window. He literally dives underneath the beam of water. Glad I didn't have breakfast.
We end up ten meters above the heli-deck of the Brent Spar. The mechanic wants us to jump out at this height. Al shouts what I think. "No way man!" The pilot manages to go down another five meters. Al jumps first, then me. One of the water bags hit Al on the head. He is laying face down on the deck. I already feel an itchy pain in my heels. We lay out two banners on the deck. "Save our seas"and "Greenpeace". The photo's went worldwide.
We take all the water and personal equipment below deck on the spar. We find a room that is reasonably dry. The heli is back above the Spar, throwing small containers filled with food, sleeping bags, and cooking stuff, dropped from 50 meters. Most of the stuff is smashed to bits. Only one of the sleeping bags can be used. The other is wet, full of glass, beans, and tomato sauce. Bummer. My heels are starting to hurt from the jump. The painkillers from the first aid kit only take off the rough edge. Bummer 2.
We try to get barbed wire off the railing, onto the heli-deck, to prevent them from landing to take us off. I bend over the railing with my bolt-cutters and get hit by an express train. Water is everywhere at once. Sounds stop. I'm holding on to the barbed wire. Al is gone. Washed away. This was a deliberate attempt to blow us off the Spar with water cannons. We are 50 metres above the ocean. I get the feeling that somebody just tried to kill me.
Next day, in the spar mess-room, three windows are missing. A steel cupboard is blown through a wall. Water is now going into the three rooms we just got dry. We remove the shower units in the rooms and smash the drains through the floor. Now the water can go down to the floor underneath. We start improving our water defences.
Today, we both got hit on the heli-deck. The only thing that stopped us from falling over the edge was a roll of barbed wire. These guys are completely out of control.
[Shell had rigged explosives on the spar for blowing it up at sea. Heijselaar continues:]
Al wanted to disable the explosives. I didn't. We asked Tim to get info about the possible dangers. The expert came back to him with, "It's probably safe to cut the wires." Probably?! Al thinks this is funny. I do not agree. We look at each other briefly. You get to know each other quite well in these circumstances. Al cut the first, brown wire. There were 32 wires in pairs, one brown, one white twisted together.
After about a minute we dare to breath again. Then we cut the rest. When all are cut we sit on the ground and start to giggle. The threat of a single idiot on the Shell ships pushing a button is over.
The last day: Thanks to the painkillers I was eating, I slept well most nights. Just before 18.00, I called Tim on the VHF. The Altair crew were listening to BBC world service, and we were the first item. Tim stopped our conversation abruptly. "Eric, Stand by!" Suddenly, I heard shouting. Shell did the U-turn!
Outside, the water cannons stopped for the first time in weeks. The silence was eerie.
Tears of joy. We waited some hours for the official confirmation. It was really over.
Shell's change of plans
The pain in Eric Heijselaar's heel, turned out to be a broken bone, suffered from the leap out of the helicopter, but for the next few days, he kept taking pain killers as the campaign crew celebrated victory. Rose Young recalls: "Jon Castle, skipper of the Altair, announced that the Spar was altering course and going towards Norway. Unbelievable! A rainbow emerged from a grey sky, whales and dolphins emerged from the sea around the boats. Magic. I'll never forget it."
In July 1995, Norway granted permission to moor the spar in Erfjord, while Shell reconsidered its options. Three years later, in 1998, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) passed a ban on dumping oil installations into the North Sea. Shell announced that Brent Spar would be cleaned out and used as a foundation for a new ferry terminal. In the summer of 2017, Shell will start decommissioning the remaining four Brent field production platforms on land.
The Brent Spar action survives in history as a classic Greenpeace campaign that genuinely did change the way humankind behaves in the world.
The Brent Spar comes to rest in a Norwegian fjord, and would eventually be cleaned of toxic residues to become the foundation for a ferry terminal. Shell is still decommissioning its fleet of North Sea drilling platforms, but not by dumping them in the ocean.
Rex Weyler is an author, journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International.
Xavante indigenous people from Maraiãwatsede with traditional body paint for war. Due to conflicts over land ownership, this traditional painting is now a daily ritual in the lives of Indians.
Last year alone, 50 environmental activists – including Indigenous activists – were murdered in Brazil for standing up to illegal logging, mining and agribusiness.
The injustice isn’t limited to violence. Indigenous Peoples in Brazil also face years of red tape and bureaucracy to get their lands officially recognised and protected, giving industry plenty of time to move in and damage their territory.
Many Indigenous communities – like the Guarani-Kaiowa – have been fighting for their land for hundreds of years, and still haven’t received the recognition and support they need from the Brazilian government.
Watch to learn more about the Guarani-Kaiowa’s fight for their rights:
A growing global spotlight
While the situation on the ground is bleak for many Indigenous communities in Brazil, the denial of their rights is getting more attention globally.
This week, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) joined the conversation after the Brazilian Indigenous movement's request for involvement. The UNHRC released a new report that details the numerous ways the rights of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil are being violated: from the excruciatingly slow process for officially recognising Indigenous territory, to the development of large infrastructure projects – like the Belo Monte and São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dams– without full Indigenous consent.
The report outlines how important a quick land recognition process is for keeping Indigenous territories from being damaged: “The urgency for land demarcation is exacerbated by deforestation, destruction of rivers and depletion of soil quality due to intensive monocropping and mining activities, all of which render land and water inadequate for sustaining indigenous peoples’ lives.”
However, the Brazilian government's answer didn't recognize the criticisms, and their speech doesn’t match with the reality. For example, they said that the Munduruku Indigenous People were consulted about the construction of the mega dam that would flood part of their land and cause a huge impact in their way of life. “It is a lie. We were never consulted, the government made a quick meeting once, but it was far away from a consultation that should be made by law”, said Arnaldo Kaba, general cacique (chief) for Munduruku people.
This response raises a question whether the Brazilian government will listen and follow the guidelines of the UNHRC at all.
But all of us can stand with the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil wherever we are in the world, and amplify their struggle. Right now, the Munduruku people of the Brazilian Amazon are still working to receive official recognition of their territory after over decades of effort. Add your name to stand with the Munduruku People.
Danicley de Aguiar is an Amazon forest campaigner for Greenpeace Brazil.
Today (21 September), around the globe, we mark Peace Day knowing that for many, peace is nowhere to be found. Not today. And unless things change dramatically, not any time soon.
On New Years Day 2016, a Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF)-Greenpeace team on the Greek island of Lesbos were joined by groups such as Sea-Watch, the Dutch Refugee Boat Foundation and local communities, to create a peace sign formed from over 3,000 discarded refugee life jackets. The groups are calling for safe passage to those fleeing war, poverty and oppression.
2015 saw the number of refugees and displaced people reach record numbers – surpassing even post-World War II. It is with heavy hearts that we follow the news from around the world. The images are heartbreaking: a terrified child, a ruined hospital, a capsized boat, a city bombed to the ground, a community struggling for survival. For every image that catches the media’s attention, many others go unnoticed. Suffering and grief beyond comprehension, and beyond the limits of what people should have to endure, are the daily reality for many.
And while we cannot pretend to comprehend, we must ask ourselves – what should we do?
For Greenpeace, this is a question we grapple with and hold ourselves accountable to: how can all of us make our world more green and peaceful? Collaborating with and supporting other non-governmental organisations, partners and communities opposing violence is one step in the right direction. Using our skills to help those impacted by conflict is another. These are necessary and important, but are also after the fact.
We are passionate about speaking up against the narratives that we are being sold: that the only way to achieve security is through military might and that borders and weapons hold the key to a peaceful existence. Instead, we all must work to address the root causes leading to conflicts, to try and prevent them from occurring or escalating in the first place. We must all work alongside communities to identify non-violent solutions to problems.
Peace cannot be solely defined by the absence of war or conflict.
This underpins the approaches we take to achieve peace. Governments spend a fortune on ‘defense’, be it guns, bombs, war planes or the ultimate weapon – nuclear armaments. By comparison there is currently very little focus on and very little time and money spent on proactively preventing conflict.
The twentieth-century model of security, based on military might, is no longer applicable. The notion that weapons are the way to safety, that military dominance is a mark of superiority, and “what happens over there stays over there” are powerful myths that will only lead to more violence and suffering. Violence begets more violence and rarely resolves conflicts. Peace in the 21st century means more than the absence of war.
We need to replace a way of thinking which allows a national security approach based on military might and a fear of those different from ourselves, with one that reflects a broader understanding of true security – human security. Human security focuses on protecting and promoting dignity, empowerment and fulfillment for all people. It means not only protecting people from threat, but creating the kind of environmental, social, political and economic systems that support and enhance people flourishing alongside each other and their environment.
A large scale visual message made by hundreds of people promoting a 100% renewable energy and peace during the COP21 climate summit.
A healthy environment is key to human security. Caring for the environment is a necessity not a luxury. Our fates and that of the natural world are intimately connected. We humans cannot survive, nor live peacefully, without a healthy, functioning environment.
Nobel Peace Laureate Willy Brandt once said: “Peace is not everything, but without peace everything is nothing.” This logic applies even more-so to the natural world that provides us with the basis of our very existence.
Much of the damage we are inflicting on our planet is irreversible. We are now at a critical juncture, a tipping point, where overstepping our planetary boundaries is leading us down a path to growing instability, resource scarcity, fear, crisis and potential conflict. Some of the adverse impacts of climate change are already unavoidable. Crises will continue to occur. It is how we choose to respond that matters.
Resource scarcity (water, arable land, energy) does not have to lead to conflict. In fact, research shows that often, it can create the conditions for rival parties to cooperate.
Sharing our scarce resources fairly and protecting the Global Commons for us all are two essential ways to achieve a green and more peaceful world.
We can address the issues of growing resource scarcity and the local and global impacts of climate change by promoting sustainable options to resource scarcity.
Take energy, for example. Conflicts are always complex, but around the world, the quest for resources and conflict often go hand-in-hand. Current conflicts in Iraq, Ukraine, Sudan, the South China Sea and Nigeria are all, to an extent, linked to the ownership, access and transport of fossil fuels.
"Resource wars" are not new. But today we can overcome them. Energy is a key example for how transitioning to sustainable, clean renewable sources, could not only reduce conflict, but make life easier and more bountiful for billions. Worldwide 1.3 billion people – equivalent to 18% of global population – continue to live without access to electricity. 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking facilities. This is a problem especially for displaced people and refugees. Renewable energies are already helping to transform lives around the world, and Greenpeace, with your help, is playing a part in contributing to this by both mapping the road to 100% renewable energy for all and working on the ground to connect people (for example in India,Italy and Lebanon).
Dolphins swim alongside the Rainbow Warrior in the Cook Strait, New Zealand; very close to where Texan oil company Anadarko intended to begin prospecting in 2013.
Our vision is for a world where the intimate, symbiotic relationships between peace and the environment are cherished and acted upon. We stand for a world where people coexist peacefully with one another and with nature. We stand for a world where the limits of our resources are respected, celebrated and shared. But to get there we must choose cooperation over conflict. We must choose equity and sustainability over greed, human dignity and courage over exploitation.
“You feed a reindeer and step away - and it suddenly drops dead. Within a day it swells up like a ball ready to burst. We thought the heat was to blame, as they were still in their thick winter coats. A neighbour lost 50 of them.”
Indigenous Nenets man in Yamal Peninsula, Russia.
Alexey Nenyanga is an Indigenous Nenets man from the Yamal Peninsula in Northern Russia. He lost most of his reindeer during the sudden outbreak of anthrax in the region this summer.
“People were evacuated, dogs put to sleep, chums (traditional Nenets tents) and sledges and everything were set on fire. Nothing was left. Then, calm ensued: they built new chums for us and we hoped that there might be some form of compensation. The state is lending a hand at the moment, but what the future holds, I don't know.”
Soon after the tragedy, climatologists concluded that the anthrax outbreak was caused by an unusually hot summer. The ancient permafrost, which had been harboring dangerous bacteria for almost a century, began to melt. The authorities of the Yamalo-Nenets region, usually sceptical about climate change arguments, agreed with this analysis surprisingly quickly. It soon became clear that it presented a convenient way to distract attention from the other cause of the epidemic: in 2007, local authorities had hastily canceled the program of annual anthrax vaccinations for reindeer, for no apparent reason.
Reindeer in the Yamal Peninsula.
Climate change and the lack of vaccination by the authorities cost the life of a 12-year-old boy who died as a result of the outbreak. Almost 400 people were evacuated and more than 100 hospitalised. A further 25 were positively diagnosed and treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the 2000 plus reindeer that died across the anthrax-infested tundra.
“In our world, if a herder is left without reindeer, he has nothing else. Nothing.”
Climate change has already taken it’s toll on this region. Two years ago, on the Yamal Peninsula, there were even worse reindeer losses, owing, once again, to extreme weather conditions. First, came a heavy snowfall followed by hot weather and then – all of a sudden – freezing conditions again. As a result, the top layer of the tundra turned from snow to ice. Fifty-eight thousand reindeer died of starvation that year – they struggled to get food from under the ice, even damaging their hooves in their desperate attempts to find something to eat.
The story of one reindeer herder in particular has already spread across the tundra. Two years ago, he lost 300 reindeer when the tundra iced-up. For the next two years, he gathered his remaining 100 animals and migrated to the Yarroto lake – the epicentre of the recent Anthrax outbreak. This year, tragedy struck again. Now he is left with nothing but a single reindeer.
Nenets Indigenous family.
The effects of climate change are painfully evident in the Yamal Peninsula and the tundra, where, on the ancient permafrost, reindeers graze and the Indigenous communities live as they have done for hundreds of years. The people here will soon find it impossible to survive, let alone adapt to their ever-changing habitat. The top of the planet is in great peril, and if this trend continues, it won't be just about reindeer anymore.
The following video contains first-hand accounts by the people affected, please watch and share.
After forty-five years, countless campaigns and stories - one thing remains central to the Greenpeace identity, and that is people. People are at the heart of who we are and what is needed to create the green and peaceful world we need.
Greenpeace began with a handful of men and women in the port city of Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific coast who volunteered their time, energy and creative skills and courageously took on something greater than themselves. This small group worked together to protest a planned nuclear test on Amchitka Island off the Alaskan coast.
Bob Hunter and Ben Metcalfe at the helm of the Phyllis Cormack en route to Amchitka, September 1971.
After raising funds and securing a boat, known as the Phyllis Cormack, which was renamed the Greenpeace, the small group of activists set sail on their voyage. Unfortunately, the US authorities intercepted the boat and the crew returned home.
Though a simplified version of the story, that was the beginning of a much bigger journey. The tenacious efforts of that small group of activists who set sail in the face of great adversity helped to raise public awareness, and opposition against nuclear testing grew.
What their story demonstrated is that small groups of people can bring communities together, in ways they never thought possible, toward a common goal. This type of collaboration can reveal people’s similarities, which, in this case, were their collective concern for our environment.
Supporters greet returning Greenpeace ship, Vancouver, 27 October 1971.
Since that day in 1971, the Greenpeace network has had many victories and losses. Today, on our forty-fifth anniversary, we celebrate those victories even as we continue to learn from our losses.
We want to acknowledge and thank all the people who were involved from the very beginning; those who have spent nearly a lifetime working tirelessly to protect our planet.
Without the activists and cyber-activists, ships crews and campaigners, volunteers, scientists, lawyers, political lobbyists and researchers, Greenpeace is just a word. Greenpeace is made up of people driven by the same idea. It is our supporters, donors and allies.
Belgian activists protest Tokyo Two verdict, September 2010.
Greenpeace is the more than 36,000 active volunteers strong, across the globe who share their skills, energy and time to organise in their local communities - all these people are Greenpeace.
We celebrate these people who are a positive force of nature because we face significant environmental issues that threaten to radically alter the planet and all the life that call it home. The hope that we can collectively change the course we are on is unflinching and necessary.
Climate change is arguably the biggest global issue of our time. The Paris Agreement is a major step to bring into force and drive far more ambitious international action to hold us at 1.5C and move us toward 100% renewables and safe, secure energy for all. Greenpeace is working to shift the world away from a fossil fuel-based economy, to one built on clean and renewable energy, in ways that bring local benefits to people. To do that we need to shift the power away from the fossil fuel industries.
Arc de Triomphe Solar Action in Paris during COP21, December 2015.
Connected to climate change, ocean acidification is a direct effect of oceans absorbing excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which is already affecting marine life. Greenpeace wants more marine protected areas, less illegal fishing and is collaborating with a group of organisations and already making strides in stopping our oceans from becoming a giant rubbish dump for plastic.
Reef Investigation in Apo Island, July 2013.
Progress, made together with communities and groups, to keep our old growth forests and tropical rainforests standing is critical. This work both supports the unique biodiversity found only in these great forests and helps protect our climate because of the role forests play in balancing our global environmental systems.
Great Bear Rainforest Blockade, June 1997.
Greenpeace is campaigning for growing our food in ways that are good for the planet and people, including farming that helps cope with climate change. And we are working toward a toxic-free future where dangerous chemicals are no longer produced, used and released into our environment.
Farmers pounding rice in the Philippines, January 2014.
Today, we continue to fight vigorously against nuclear power, and although full-scale nuclear testing has slowed thanks to the people who stood up against it, nuclear-armed states continue to possess, develop and modernise nuclear weapons. We need a UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
Protest at the Hanbit Nuclear Power Plant, South Korea, December 2014.
The health of the planet depends on the health of all of its parts. These interconnected issues are complex and the solutions may sometimes feel far out of reach. Today, as it did those forty-five years ago in Vancouver, it will take people to give voice to our environmental issues and take action toward solutions.
Martin Luther King, Jr said: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Today, there is a greater urgency to protect our communities and our planet. People power is needed now more than ever. People taking non-violent direct action, bearing witness, exposing environmental crimes, investigating and highlighting environmental issues and driving the solutions.
Climate Protest at COP 17, December 2011.
More and more people believe and are willing to dream big so that our green and peaceful world can be realised.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” - Arundhati Roy
Happy Anniversary, Greenpeace.
Jennifer Morgan and Bunny McDiarmid are the Executive Directors of Greenpeace International
Words are powerful, especially when they speak the truth and come straight from the heart. That’s why Oscar-winning actor and writer Emma Thompson’s plea to UN delegates to do what is right for the oceans moved so many of us. She reminded international representatives meeting in New York that, while some are sitting in important negotiations, the oceans and the people that depend on them most are under severe threat.
At the UN, Emma’s video message was met by loud applause, with many delegates expressing their deep appreciation for the reminder of what is really at stake out there on the great blue sea.
A new UN ocean treaty could lead to the creation of networks of ocean sanctuaries across the world. The survival of our oceans depends on it. Science tells us, these ‘no-take’ areas are desperately needed to stop the ocean crisis.
Momentumis growing - this week, a major meeting of governments and NGOs in Hawaii committed to safeguard 30% of the world’s oceans. Legally binding protection is what’s needed. That’s what the UN ocean treaty negotiators are tasked to deliver.
Most countries agree that the UN ocean treaty should include legal steps to create sanctuaries on the high seas. Costa Rica and Monaco, for example, suggested a good way forward. These steps, which include transparency and adopting scientific criteria were welcomed by South Africa as well as the European Union.
Greenpeace also presented a ten step approach to achieve high seas ocean sanctuaries. What is still being discussed is the level of protection for these sanctuaries, how they should be managed and by whom.
Emma Thompson had the last word in the negotiations this time which is pretty amazing. Her message has so far reached 3.5 million people! I would like to thank all of you out there, who shared the plea for ocean protection and helped make the UN listen.
There are only two more meetings to go before governments must report back to the UN General Assembly. Hopefully with a treaty text that most can agree on. To succeed, all self-serving political agendas need to be put aside in favour of protecting our blue planet. Let’s continue fighting side by side and make decisions, that, as Emma Thompson rightly put it, our children and our children’s children will thank us for.
Believe in ocean protection? Help protect one of the world’s most pristine oceans from oil drilling and overfishing, by signing up here.
Sofia Tsenikli is a Senior Oceans Policy Advisor at Greenpeace International and was at the recent UN ocean treaty meeting in New York.
After constant pressure from cat, tuna and ocean lovers alike, calling on global food giant Mars, and its brand Whiskas, to face up to human rights abuses in the supply chain of seafood supplier Thai Union, they’ve taken the first step: committing to a Plan of Action to protect the workers of the seafood industry - the people who catch the fish to feed cats, who all too often suffer in the process.
Along with some of the world’s most famous cats, thousands of you demanded answers from Mars, and now they’ve provided us with exactly that - a step in the right direction.
This is a big win for people power and for Mars, which sources seafood from some of the biggest fishing companies in the world.
You called on Mars to produce an action plan to address the shocking problems in its supply chain and to put pressure on Thai Union to shape up.
And now… Mars has heard you!
Buying seafood from Thai Union can mean buying bad seafood. It may have been caught by abused or trafficked fishermen, trapped far out at sea, with no pay, no food and no way off. There is also a very high chance it’s been caught using aggressive fishing methods that capture and kill all kinds of marine life, like sharks, turtles, seabirds, rays and even baby tuna that never get a chance to help keep our oceans full and thriving.
The Mars Plan promises a significant investment in Thailand to ensure human rights are protected at sea and in factories, and to develop a model that can be rolled out across the globe. Mars has also promised to follow up with a strong Fisheries Code of Conduct, and say if suppliers like Thai Union fail to meet these standards, they’ll risk having their contracts cut.
And we aren’t just talking about seafood in Whiskas products. It is a global plan for all Mars seafood products worldwide - in the pet food aisle this means Whiskas, IAMS and Dine Desire.
This is a big step forward for the international pet food giant and a victory for the growing movement of people taking action to protect our oceans. Mars’ plan means they are committed to cleaning up their seafood sourcing and eliminating seafood suppliers who remain connected to modern-day slavery and worker abuse. This will lead to genuine change on the water, both for the people who work at sea and for our fragile and precious oceans.
While this fight is far from over, Mars’ announcement puts pressure squarely back where it belongs - on Thai Union.
Now two of Thai Union’s best known pet food customers, Mars and Nestle (owner of Purina Fancy Feast), are acknowledging the hideous problems in their seafood sourcing and are committed to driving change.
The cat’s out of the bag, Thai Union. Your customers want better.
Kate Simcock is a Campaigner at Greenpeace Aotearoa New Zealand.
How a small group of fishermen and consumers are creating an alternative marketplace for locally caught fish.
Antonis is a low impact fisherman from Lesvos. He has been fishing since he was a child. In the last few years, the times he has returned to port without any fish have been increasing at an alarming rate. "I feel like I lived with the ocean in its good times. There were enough fish. But now, year after year, there are less and less. We come back with an almost empty boat."
Low impact fishermen like Antonis are the heart and soul of the Greek seas. They spend all of their lives fishing in the same waters, so they are motivated to act as guardians of the sea. Their livelihood is fundamental to the economy and culture of small coastal communities. But the priorities of the global market and competition with larger industrial vessels are forcing many to abandon their "kaiki" (a traditional fishing vessel) and look for employment elsewhere.
This summer, Greenpeace Greece launched the project "A Box of Sea", which brings together low impact fishermen and citizens who want to take action against overfishing. The aims of this coalition are to create a fairer market which protects the marine environment, rewards those who fish in more moderate ways, supports small fishing communities and provides better information to consumers regarding the seafood that ends up on their plates.
We were lucky enough to meet the fishermen of Lesvos and Leros while helping out with the refugee crisis last year. They set aside their fishing gear without a second thought to shoulder the humanitarian crisis in their community. For years they have been "fishing souls" instead of fish, as Kostas from Lesvos describes it. These fishermen and their communities deserve our support to cope with both the environmental and the refugee crises that they face.
The "Box of Sea" project is the first ever hands-on attempt to pave the way for an alternative and fairer model of fishing. Supporters receive fish caught daily by low impact fishermen to their doorstep. Those who receive the boxes help us to test out different tools and logistic details in order to establish a distribution system that will be operated exclusively by the fishermen in the future.
The most challenging part of the project was working out how to transport the fish from islands in the far east of the Aegean Sea to Athens in a maximum of 24 hours. But we managed to find a way; using already existing transportation services - ferries and lorries - and by calling on the entire Greek team of volunteers and staff who delivered the boxes to the doorsteps of our supporters.
Since its launch in June, the "Box of Sea" has received significant support from citizens who are really keen on directly participating in the creation of an alternative fish market. As Katerina from Athens told us when she received her box, "this project gives us the opportunity to safeguard the oceans and those that fish with the best possible way. Only by doing so can we call ourselves civilized."
Alkis Kafetzis is an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace Greece.