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Bode to Step Down as Head of Greenpeace World

Forwarded By NZ Life Sciences Network

Bode to Step Down as Head of Greenpeace International, Significant Challenges Ahead
Greenpeace USA struggles to raise funds to pay debt
18 JULY 2000

FSN and wire service reports

Thilo Bode has announced he will resign as executive director of Greenpeace International in a matter of months following several high-level members of the organization leaving the organization.

Bode led the organization for more than five years, and guided the group into a host of new issues without significantly sacrificing Greenpeace's general membership base or reputation.

However, fundraising has suffered with annual budgets lowering until their recent success in generating European outcries over biotechnology.

Bode will leave the organization once a successor has been found.

There is no current favourite noted to replace him.

The executive director is hired by the Greenpeace board of directors to run the day-to-day operations of the $110 million per year organization.

He manages the staff, organizes campaigns, monitors and guides expansion, and oversees Greenpeace USA, a financially indebted ward of Greenpeace International.

The executive director of Greenpeace is naturally in a difficult position.

With the legitimacy of Green politics in Europe, there is a pull from European affiliates to act professionally, as if the organization belongs in the power structure.

In North America and Australia, however, Greenpeace's traditional policies are deemed far too radical for the organization to be politically viable; therefore the group relies on confrontational direct action.

In developing countries, Greenpeace's strict hierarchy makes it quite vulnerable to claims that it is as much a "neo-Colonial" force as corporations are.

The challenge to the executive director is to develop policies and activities for an organization with such different roles in various societies and for Greenpeace in all of these activities to appear a seamless consistent organization.

The Brent Spar incident defines Bode's term in office and provides an example of the tension between the activist and the professional sides of Greenpeace.

In 1995, the organization deemed Royal Dutch Shell's offshore platform, Brent Spar, to be unfit for deep sea disposal due to the radioactive drilling waste stored inside.

Activists raided the platform and held out against authorities until Shell agreed to disassemble the platform on land.

By almost all accounts, including ex post facto analyses by Greenpeace, the platform was not an unusual danger to the environment, it did not contain radioactive wastes, and the environment perhaps only minimally benefited by it being disassembled on land.

The platform takeover, however, placed Greenpeace's name on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Revenue poured into the organization and its national affiliates.

Royal Dutch Shell dramatically changed its environmental policies.

Offshore oil drilling became more expensive for all oil companies.

It was a true victory, except for growing awareness of the scientific fallacies that rested at the root of the campaign.

Bode's reaction was to apologize to the world community and demand that all Greenpeace affiliates use greater discipline in making scientific arguments.

In apologizing, Bode maintained Greenpeace's credibility in Europe.

To this day Bode is fighting an entrenched bureaucracy resistant to change, and while he continues to emphasize greater discipline and accountability, some of Greenpeace's recent "science" on biotechnology, phthalates and other issues has continued to build on misrepresentations and blatant falsehoods.

Responding to such allegations, one Greenpeace organizer stated, "Our purpose is not to be scientifically correct, that's the corporation and robber-baron's job.

"Our job is to move the needle and affect radical change."

This was exemplified by actions of Greenpeace U.K. director Lord Peter Melchett arrested last year for vandalism and property destruction targeted at British farmers participating in government-sponsored field trials of genetically modified crops.

Melchett's arrest and continuing calls for attacks on farmers embarrassed colleagues in the environmental action movement to the point that he was condemned by Friends of the Earth and others worried about negative public reaction to the illegal nature of the acts.

Similar actions in 1996 in the United States significantly damaged Greenpeace's reputation there following broad public and farm community condemnation for attacks on farmers’ property in Atlantic, Iowa.

The balancing act facing Bode's successor is even more difficult due to an emerging concern about the growing power of the Dutch within the group.

Greenpeace Netherlands has had increasing power within the international organization since the late 1980s, when the Dutch government began a policy of funding environmental groups (through the 1989 National Environmental Policy Plan or NEPP).

The amount of money given to Greenpeace Netherlands increased dramatically in the wake of the Dutch environmental bureaucracy's latest quadrennial review.

According to one knowledgeable source, Greenpeace International has become "dominated" by the Dutch since the money started "pouring in" from the Dutch government.

Many from outside the Netherlands resent the Dutch's inordinate power.

Finally, Bode's successor has three other significant problems facing him: one problem is a result of success, two are born of failure.

First, the next executive director will be responsible for finding an honourable resolution to the biotechnology debate.

Greenpeace has profited nicely and had success in opposing GM crops in Europe, but the widespread opposition could end soon as growing scientific consensus in Europe and North America coalesces around the conclusion that the crops are safe.

In fact, Greenpeace has suffered high-level resignations and embarrassing attacks from the founder and former President of Greenpeace for their "misguided" attack on a technology whose potential to decrease pollution and pesticide which had been core issues for the organization.

"Activists concerned about the safety of GM foods often say that they require more testing." noted former Greenpeace science advisory Barry Palevitz.

"If that's the case, why vandalize test plots that would establish danger, or safety?" Another former Greenpeace advisor, Dr. William Plaxton, professor of biology and biochemistry at Queen's University in Ontario resigned from the organization last year citing, "As a plant biochemist, I can no longer back an organization that has recently undertaken such a blanket condemnation, fear-mongering and on-scientific attack against the production and use of genetically modified plants."

Pushing these points, one group of former Greenpeace members has established a parody web site to help and encourage disaffected members to resign from the organization.

The site features include automated resignation letters sent to the organization and even a take-off on the popular Harry Potter book series allowing the disaffected to send a "howler" sound file to the organization replete with screams and chastising words of shame.

And Greenpeace founder and former president Patrick Moore has taken to the speakers’ circuit to condemn acts of violence and misrepresentations of science.

In one of many interviews he outlined his concerns: "Greenpeace and the environmental movement abandoned science and logic somewhere in the mid-1980s, just as mainstream society was adopting all the more reasonable items on the environmental agenda.

"This was because many environmentalists couldn't make the transition from confrontation to consensus, and could not get out of adversarial politics.

"This particularly applies to political activists who were using environmental rhetoric to cover up agendas that had more to do with class warfare and anti-corporatism than they did with the actual science of the environment.

"To stay in an adversarial role, those people had to adopt ever more extreme positions because all the reasonable ones were being accepted."

The other challenge is finding relevance for the organization in what should be a natural strength: the climate change debate.

Greenpeace is not nearly as influential in the climate debate as it should be due to a misguided strategy adopted in the wake of Brent Spar.

The group assumed that more success lay in high profile, high-sea direct actions against oil exploration.

The third problem is that of the moribund Greenpeace USA, which owes Greenpeace International millions but cannot hold staff and does not make money.

Greenpeace USA has been a ward of Greenpeace International, but in the two years of receivership the international office has made little progress.

Current hopes for financial solvency for Greenpeace USA are being placed in aggressively engaging the biotechnology debate.

Advertisements from Greenpeace to hire canvassers and other organizers to help raise funds using the biotechnology issue have appeared in newspapers across the U.S. and Canada.

One such ad running in a Madison, Wisconsin newspaper reads in part:

"Agriculture Campaigner -- Greenpeace: the nation's most visible environmental organization seeks campaigners to further our work against genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the environment.

"Duties include networking with the farm community (particularly with soy and corn producers), working closely with Consumer Action Network Team & the Greenpeace GMO team."

The ads have drawn critical response from representatives from the National Corn and Soybean Growers Associations noting the lack of enthusiasm of farmers for Greenpeace's attacks in the U.S. and Europe on farmers’ property.

"Any Greenpeace organizer who thinks he can raise concerns and funds from farmers on this issue is sorely misguided," said Randal Motts a Nebraska corn grower.

"Farm country is a long-way from the corporate board rooms of Europe. American farming will not become the next Brent Spar issue on which Greenpeace can make its living."

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