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‘Greenpeace escapes from own objectives’

Published time: June 26, 2014 09:53
AFP Photo / Jose Jordan

In the recent years Greenpeace has focused on fund raising away from mass campaigning and movement building which were its proclaimed objectives, escaping from its own objectives, Professor Chris Williams from Pace University told RT.

RT:Recently, a Greenpeace executive was criticized because of his frequent airplane trips when he could have taken the train. How does this reflect on the organization?

Chris Williams: It really reflects quiet poorly for an organization that is campaigning against unnecessary plane flights and for alternative transportation such as trains which are much more environmentally friendly. So coming as it does on top of other problems for Greenpeace, not least the financial issues it has been having, then this is a real problem even though the executive directors supported the flights on the basis of keeping the family together.

I think taking flights back into work is not exactly the image for campaigning environmental organization to have and to be taken seriously. So more search should be put into making either personnel changes or other ways of organizing things, so that it becomes a unnecessary, because it has been going on for a couple of years and probably would have gone on if it had not been exposed in a German and then the British newspaper. Now he actually has changed to trains for the remainder of the time he is commuting between Luxembourg and Amsterdam.

RT: Greenpeace's official statement said that from now on the executive will take the train instead of the airplane. Is this enough to fix the damage done to the organization’s image?

CW: The image of the organization was very much boosted when the Russian government and the military decided to port the Arctic Sunrise, when it was campaigning against new drilling in the Arctic. However, as the Executive Director himself admitted, Greenpeace is also suffering from large internal disarray in communication issues. On the one hand, it is asking his staff in Amsterdam to move to different places and take pay cuts for their salary. On the other hand, one of its leading executives is flying back to work. And also the one Greenpeace employee who’s been caught who lost $3 million gambling on the stock exchange with finances of Greenpeace that have been donated by individuals. And Greenpeace prides itself on not taking corporate sponsorship and taking small donations from hundreds and thousands of people who support their policies of fighting for environmental change in the world. And yet they gambled away $3 million, their operating a loss they share and on top of that they come with another scandal. And we know that there are communication issues, according to the executive director.

The direction that Greenpeace has been going over the last decade, decade-and-a-half, towards this larger and larger concentration of raising money and operating this multimillion-dollar organization is clearly highly problematic and seems to be at odds with its stated mission.

RT: Greenpeace started small and it's grown into an organization with an annual budget of $400 million. Has the money had a negative effect on the organization?

CW: It is difficult to say. Like a lot of large environmental NGOs that have grown into multibillion dollar organizations and have been taking corporate sponsorship, Greenpeace has not done that, but in exchanges it has been focused on building an organization that is very top-heavy, top-down, having a lack of democracy or input from hundreds of thousands of volunteers that are part of it, and a lack of transparency about what it is up to. It is wrong.

If it leads to a kind of reforms that I think are necessary to make it a more grassroots organization that is not so focused on its financial bottom line and is more concerned with building the mass movement that we would actually need to affect the change the organization proposes, then I think that this multiple exposures would be a good thing. Because clearly the organization needs to change in significant ways to become more effective in what it wants to achieve.

RT: Do you have faith in Greenpeace as an organization?

CW: That’s a difficult question to answer, because on the one hand I agree with many of the things that the organization argues for in terms of the rapid transition away from fossil fuels, in terms of a complete rethinking of the economy towards sustainability, more longer-term planning for agriculture, food production and reductions in useless consumerism.

If we are going to talk about useless flights we should talk about business flights all over the world that are such a lot fraction of the total flying time. And they are unnecessary. If Greenpeace is carrying unnecessary business trips, then so’s the rest of the business. So how that could be re-evaluated? On the one hand, the strategy that had been adopted over the last few years by Greenpeace and other environmental NGOs of having a larger focus on a fund rising away from mass campaigning and movement building is to the detriment of all of us.

So while I agree with the objectives, I think the means have escaped those objectives, and we could be more effective and should try something else because they have got a lot of money now and what they are using it for is a legitimate question.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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