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July 30, 2000


The wages of protest



July 30, 2000 Greenpeace, the world leader in the protest
industry is in crisis, the London Times reports. The
international pressure group’s annual report, to be
published shortly, is said to disclose a loss of more than
1.6 million members and £30 million ($45 million). The
report will also show that the group has had to slash
spending, find sources of funding to prop up its troubled
American group and rethink its strategies to try to reverse
the decline in its fortunes.

Its difficulties increased recently when Thilo Bode, 53,
executive director of Greenpeace International which
oversees the 30-odd Greenpeace groups around the world,
announced his departure. This follows the resignation of the
entire board of Greenpeace US, which was once the biggest
national group but has been in disarray for several years.

In Britain, membership is down to 200,000, a 33 percent
decrease from the mid-1990s.

The group also faces virulent attacks from one of its own
founders. Patrick Moore has accused Greenpeace of being
“dominated by leftwingers and extremists who disregard
science in the pursuit of environmental purity”.

At its peak in the mid-1980s the group had more than five
million supporters worldwide. By 1994 the numbers dropped to
four million and since then have fallen to 2.4 million. In
1995 worldwide gross income reached £101 million ($152
million), but by 1998, the last year for which figures are
available, this had fallen to £83 million ($125 million) .

In the face of such costs it has been forced to tighten its
belt and the Amsterdam-based international office, which
licenses every other affiliated group, has begun insisting
that national groups must make a profit or face closure. The
international office and its three yachts, including the
Rainbow Warrior, are funded by a levy on those national

Last week Bode confirmed that Greenpeace International is
to close its office in Ukraine. Similar closures have
already been imposed on the offices in Ireland and
Scandinavia, where national groups have been merged into a
single one called Greenpeace Nordic.

In America things are even worse. At its peak in the early
1990s, the group there had more than one million members,
providing a cash cow for Greenpeace International.
Membership has now plummeted to 300,000. Kirsten Engberg,
its executive chair, has announced plans to resign.

Instead of appointing a successor from within to replace
her, however, Greenpeace plans to take over a separate
environmental group called Ozone Action and rename it
Greenpeace. John Passacantando, Ozone Action’s founder and
executive director. will become head of Greenpeace US.

Elsewhere, groups face increasing questions over tactics.
“The public is bored with seeing us chaining ourselves to
ships and cranes,” said one campaigner. “The trouble is,
that’s what we do best.” Bode, who says he is leaving to
seek new challenges before retirement, acknowledges that
direct action “can now look a bit tired. We have to be
careful of creating a certain fatigue”.

In Britain four years ago such fears led to a
reorganisation of Greenpeace UK and an angry parting of the
ways with senior campaigners. The credibility of the British
group was also damaged by the campaign against Shell’s
scheme to dump the disused Brent Spar oil rig on the sea
bed. Greenpeace made false accusations during the campaign
and was forced to apologize.

The consequent decline in the British group’s profile was
reversed last year with its controversial entry into the
debate over GM crops. Its decision to send activists into
fields to rip up trial plots has, however, been questioned
by other green groups who say such confrontational tactics
belong in the past.

Lord Peter Melchett, the executive director of Greenpeace
UK and an advocate of ‘direct action,’ said the
organization’s fortunes were improving. “People are
increasingly aware that the environment is at risk as never
before. Membership has turned the corner and the latest
figures show that it will start rising both globally and
nationally from this year.”