In 1966, a Yale lawyer named Irving Stowe and his wife Dorothy, a labor union organizer, moved with their two children, to Vancouver, Canada, where they became a full-time activists.
The couple organized a small group called the Don’t Make a Wave Committee, in an attempt to stop nuclear testing on Amchitka Island, one of Aleutian Islands in southwest Alaska and they were joined by activists Marie and Jim Bohlen, Patrick Moore, and law student Paul Coté.
They chartered a fishing boat named Phyllis Cormack, renamed Greenpeace, to sail to the island. The boat was intercepted by the United States Coast Guard, but the resulting publicity helped bring about the cancellation of the tests.
Fifty years ago, September 15th 1971, the Greenpeace set out to confront and stop US nuclear weapons testing at Amchitka and although the crew of twelve never reached the test zone but the contagious nature of their act of courage and their savvy and novel use of media to tell the story of peace and ecology and to confront power sparked a movement.
The US ended nuclear testing at Amchitka the next year and Greenpeace grew into an organization that is part of a global movement. Today, Greenpeace has a presence in over 55 countries, made possible by tens of millions of volunteers, donors, and supporters.
For 50 years Greenpeace has fought countless campaigns alongside our movement allies, blockading and ending nuclear testing and the dumping of toxic waste at sea, establishing a base in Antarctica and pushing for protection for the continent for 50 years, investigating big polluting corporations, standing between whales and the whalers’ harpoons, and beside communities, Indigenous people, unions, and allies around the world in the fight to ensure a just, green and peaceful future.
“Still, there’s more to be done,” said James Devine, then a fifth-grader who formed a less confrontational student environmental group at his school the very same year. “The destruction of nature that inspired the very first Greenpeace action, and motivated me to organize schoolyard and neighborhood park cleanups, continues to worsen as we now find ourselves at a global tipping point in the climate crisis.”
Today, Greenpeace works to preserve our natural environment, to reduce our global emissions in order to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, to transform systems that affect our food production, to protect 30% of global oceans by 2030, to restore ancient forests that are key to biodiversity, and to seek climate justice on behalf of vulnerable communities already impacted by the ongoing climate emergency.
“As we mark 50 years since the first Greenpeace voyage, biodiversity loss is accelerating, the climate emergency is deepening and inequality is growing,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director, Jennifer Morgan. “Over the last five decades there have been many campaigns and victories to demand a green, peaceful, and just future. Greenpeace continues to work as part of a global movement for system change to ensure that people and planet are put before profit and pollution.”
“Greenpeace’s story is one of hope in action,” said Morgan. “It’s a story of people power, of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It’s a 50 year story that demonstrates that together we can force radical change, we can do what at first might seem impossible.”
“Now, more than ever, we need to stand together in defense of nature, which nurtures and sustains us. We need to stand for equity, on which we build a lasting peace,” said Morgan. “We need to take back our shared future. The millions must become billions before it’s too late.”
“Whatever taking action looks like to you – whether that is signing a petition or attending a peaceful protest – we all have a vital part in creating the green and peaceful future we all need. To change the world, it’s going to take all of us together having the courage to stand up for what we know is right.”