Today in Russia we are very much looking at what could be called a tale of two drilling platforms; two cases that could almost be said to represent the state of the environmentalist movement as a whole. In the cold Russian Arctic, 30 Greenpeace "activists" (hooligans really) await their legal fate after attempting to force their way onto a Gazprom drilling platform at sea. Meanwhile in the also cold (this is Russia after all) Russian Far East, at the efforts of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, plans to construct a drilling platform near a habitat for endangered whales have been delayed for five years while the issue can be examined and mutually agreeable solutions can be searched for.
The contrast is striking. Whereas Greenpeace, like a child throwing a temper tantrum, has chosen a path of crying and violence, the WWF has chosen to engage in reasonable discourse with various stakeholders on issues that concern its members. It should not go unnoticed by those in the environmentalist movement that the WWF's approach was the one to yield results.
The environmentalist movement in Indonesia is facing a similar dilemma, with stark lines being drawn between those environmentalists who shrilly insist that their way is the only way to move forward on environmental issues and those environmentalists that are open to discussion and engagement with the corporate world and the general public. Happily, Greenomics Indonesia (http://www.greenomics.org/main.htm) would seem to be one of the latter. Their November 2013 report, "Zero to Zero: APP's Zero Deforestation Saves Zero Forested Sumatran Tiger Habitat" deftly and fairly outlines APP's mistakes, missteps, and outright frauds in attempting to adopt its new forest/tiger friendly image while, at the same time, providing a firm basis for discussion for how APRIL (or any forest products company really) could avoid such similar pitfalls. We should take note. Dialogue works.
Sadly though, the existence of rational, reasonable environmentalists like Greenomics, and the WWF does not preclude us from having to deal with violent, delusional ideologues like Greenpeace which, all too often, seem to be in the driver’s seat of this movement.
Are Greenpeace's childish flailings anything more than they seem? Do they serve some Machiavellian purpose? These questions are not unwarranted as it was only this year at the Forest Stewardship Council conference in Copenhagen, Denmark that Daniel Mittler, the Head of the Political and Business Unit at Greenpeace International, stated "if a company, at their Christmas party, collects some money and they transfer that money from their business account to us, we send it back because it's a corporate donation. And we ask them: if you want that money to still go to us, please ask a private individual to send it from their private bank account. Then we can accept it (emphasis added)."
So Greenpeace is willing to allow a corporation to host a de facto fundraiser for it and is willing to take any money raised… but only so long as the cash was first passed through an obvious cut-out? It would seem that Greenpeace's independence is not as complete as they would like the world at large to believe.
But still, fairness compels one to admit that while the willing (seemingly almost oblivious) exploitation of such obvious loopholes may be the hallmark of a hypocritical entity, it is only possibly the hallmark of a corrupt one. Undoubtedly there are those in the corporate world who benefit from Greenpeace's specific antics. For example, a protest targeting Gazprom will have beneficial side effects for Gazprom's competitors.
Likewise, dragging the Asian-based APRIL's name through the mud will be of great benefit to those companies that compete with APRIL. But the truth is that such intricate "give-and-take" relationships are simply an innate part of any system as complex and chaotic as the global economy and commodities markets. In such inherently complex systems, the old maxim about "never ascribing to malice what can be explained by incompetence" rings especially true.
Greenpeace may be the sterling rainbow warrior it claims to be, or… it may be simply a shill for whatever special interest manages to funnel the most money through the labyrinth of loopholes surrounding its bank account. Greenpeace's members may be little more than delusional young socialists whose bloodthirsty eagerness to "take the fight to the corporate oppressors" is freely and happily exploited by older, but no less bloodthirsty, socialists at the head of the organization, or… they may be true white knights (or should that be "green knights?") whose passion for truth is exceeded only by their dedication to non-violence and respect for life.
As with a great many things, the truth is most assuredly somewhere in between. And that is the real lesson here. It's a lesson most of us learn in grade school: it is through calm, rational discussion that complex issues are explored, conflicts are resolved, and true progress is made. In the corporate world, where the art of compromise is part and parcel of every business negotiation, it's a lesson that was never forgotten.
In the world of environmentalist NGOs Greenomics of Indonesia seems to know well that intelligent, rational discussion is the way forward. WWF seems to be learning. But what about Greenpeace? The sad truth is that, no matter what, some children just don't learn. And when they don't, there's only one option: the class moves on without them. And they grow up.
Ben Wolinski is a freelance writer and a dedicated environmentalist. Whenever he leaves his slash and burn palm oil plantation in his massive SUV to buy authentic carved elephant tusks, he feels really, really bad. Chill people, it was a joke.