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Greenpeace is no stranger to controversy. Over the past 40 years since its formation, it has become well known for its ‘direct action’ policies in the name of protecting and conserving the Earth’s environment. The Klingsnorth Power station incident in 2007 best shows what Greenpeace intends to achieve from its direct actions: six members of Greenpeace broke into the power station, climbed the 200-metre smokestack and painted the word ‘Gordon’ on it, in a reference to Gordon Brown. This caused approximately £30,000 worth of damage and yet the activists claimed in court that they were legally justified since they were trying to prevent climate change from affecting the rest of the world. The activists were later acquitted of their crimes, justifying in the eyes of Greenpeace that its direct actions can work.
This then perhaps explains why 30 activists thought it right to board a Russian-owned Arctic drilling platform on September 19 in protest of the drilling that occurs there. Greenpeace itself released a picture of two of their activists scaling the Prirazlomnaya oilrig, evidently proud to show what they’re doing to the world. However, their actions have resulted in severe consequences, as members of the Russian Investigative Committee have seized the Greenpeace ship and taken all 30 activists prisoner. The Russian authorities, however, including President Putin himself, claim that the Greenpeace protest was a clear attempt to seize the drilling platform and therefore had to be dealt with appropriately, complying with Article 227 of the Russian Penal Code which defines piracy as “an attack on a ship at sea or on a river, with the aim of seizing someone else’s property, using violence or the threat of violence”.
This is where Greenpeace must surely come under some criticism. When planning this extreme protest, the activists must have been aware of the danger of climbing onto the platform and yet they continued regardless. Similarly to the Klingsnorth Power station incident, Greenpeace has knowingly committed an illegal act in the name of protecting the environment. Yet the difference now is that the Russian authorities appear far less willing to use the prevention of climate change as a reason to acquit the activists. Greenpeace is now focusing on the release of the activists, claiming that Russian authorities are holding them unfairly and without access to legal aid, yet this means that all the focus is taken off the risks of Arctic drilling, the whole point of this event.
This protest has backfired on Greenpeace, which is now under heavy criticism from the Russian authorities, who have referred to the activists as criminals attempting to capture the oilrig. I do personally support many of Greenpeace’s causes and a lot of work it does is helpful in drawing attention to the environment. However, in this case the organisation has gone too far. There is a big difference between a peaceful protest and committing a criminal act and, in this situation, Greenpeace has done its cause more harm than good. Although the response of the Russian authorities is perhaps a bit extreme, even Putin himself saying that the activists cannot really be classed as pirates, it is hard to understand what Greenpeace hoped to achieve with such a drastic action. It is not exactly likely that President Putin would instantly cancel all Arctic drilling just because a few Greenpeace activists climbed a drilling platform. If Greenpeace’s intention were simply to get people talking about the Arctic drilling, then the arrest of the activists has diverted both the world media’s attention and the attention of Greenpeace itself onto that instead.
This time I’m afraid to say, similar to the Klingsnorth power station, Greenpeace has gone too far in its activism. Green activism can be a worthy cause to campaign for, but committing illegal acts such as this only serves to cast a highly negative light on the entire organisation and instead gets the activists branded as criminals causing mass disruption. Only time will tell if Greenpeace learn from this, but I have a feeling it will continue to use audacious stunts such as this in order to get attention, be it positive or negative.