The greenhouse effect, nuclear contamination, toxic chemicals, oil spills, air pollution, water pollution: these are all issues that affect every single living being on this planet we call home. The environment and issues pertaining to the environment apply directly to the entire world. Greenpeace, an international environmental organization that is dedicated to preserving the earth’s natural resources, addresses these numerous environmental issues through peaceful campaigning and demonstrations.
Members of the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” founded Greenpeace in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1971. The “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” was a small group opposed to nuclear weapons testing by the United States military in Alaska. Later, the committee changed its name to Greenpeace to echo its greater goal of creating a green and peaceful world. Greenpeace has more than forty offices in 30 countries with its headquarters in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It is a growing organization that has dedicated a lot of time and manpower to making this world a better and safer place for its inhabitants. Through peacefully lobbying and demonstration, Greenpeace has affected change for the better and, hopefully, will continue to do so in the future. The main issues that Greenpeace concerns itself with include climate changes, toxic chemicals, and nuclear disarmament and contamination.
Greenpeace has acknowledged that one of the greatest threats to the planet is global climate change. Scientists and governments alike have all established that the problem is serious and real. In 1997, industrialized countries agreed at the climate summit in Kyoto to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases they pump into the atmosphere. However, little real action is being taken to address the problem. The efforts of Greenpeace on this issue include campaigning for governments to face up to their responsibilities and address the problem.
Greenpeace believes that governments should be leading the way to a new energy direction based on renewable energy like wind or solar power. At present many governments are instead using taxpayer’s money to support companies that spend billions of dollars on development of coal, oil or gas. These fossil fuels, by releasing carbon into the atmosphere, are the leading cause for climate change. Scientist estimate that there is a “safe” limit for climate change and that we can only release a limited amount of carbon into the atmosphere. Greenpeace calculated this amount of carbon within the range of 112.5 to 337.5 billion tons of carbon over the next 100 years. They claim that industry has already four times this amount of carbon in reserves of fossil fuels. If fossil fuels continue to be burned at the present levels, the “safe” limit will be reached in about 40 years. That is why Greenpeace advocates reducing carbon dioxide emissions and phasing out the use of fossil fuels. Greenpeace believes that we are in a second world oil crisis. The first crisis in the 1970s was a shortage of oil. Presently, the crisis is that we have too much oil.
Greenpeace claims that instead of spending money on new oil exploration, corporations should instead spend money on converting to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy. Oil companies like Exxon, Shell, Mobil and BP continuously expand their search for oil, exploring remote areas previously too expensive or too harsh to consider. Greenpeace, in an effort to stop this, campaigns against new oil exploration. They lobby governments to stop encouraging oil companies to extend their reach. They also challenge oil industries to stop exploring for more oil and switch to investment in renewable energy. Greenpeace is concentrating its efforts on halting oil expansion on two fronts: the Arctic in Northern Alaska and the Atlantic Frontier in the wild ocean to the north and west of Ireland, Scotland and Norway. Greenpeace has strong convictions and believes firmly that it is possible to change to renewable energy.
Toxic chemicals are a second concern for Greenpeace. The Greenpeace International Toxics Campaign is the campaign of Greenpeace that seeks to end the manufacture, use, trade, and disposal of hazardous toxic chemicals. Greenpeace Toxic activists raise the awareness of toxic pollution and encourage governments and industries to convert to clean modes of production.
POPs, or persistent organic pollutants, are the worst toxics in the environment today. These substances are toxic in small amounts and travel long distances in the air currents. Therefore, they endanger people and wildlife all over the world. POPs are also carried into polar environments where they condense and are deposited. This accounts for the high concentrations of POPs in arctic environments. Another problem with POPs is that they are persistent. That is, they cannot easily be broken down and if they are, chemicals that are even more hazardous are created. Dioxin is an example of one of the most poisonous POPs.
Plastics are another concern for Greenpeace. PVC (both soft and hard) is one of the most widely used types of plastics. It is used in everything from packaging in cling film and bottles, to credit cards and audio records, for construction in window frames and cables and in pipes, flooring, and wallpaper. It is also used by manufacturers in cars, and in hospitals for medical disposables. The problem with these plastics is that in the production of PVC, dioxins are created and released and, over their lifetime, PVC products can leak harmful additives. In addition, the only way to dispose of PVC is to either burn or bury it. In burning PVC, dioxins and other chlorine-containing compounds are released and these contaminate the environment. Recycling attempts have proven difficult. Another problem with PVC lies in the addition of phthalates, which makes PVC flexible and soft. Laboratory testing proves that these chemicals are hazardous to the health of individuals and children can ingest these hazardous chemicals from PVC toys. Greenpeace has lobbied governments to take action and the results are that some governments are restricting PVC use. Hundreds of communities are eliminating PVC in buildings and many companies like Nike, IKEA, and the Body Shop have committed themselves to eliminating PVC from their products.
Toxic trade is another issue involving Greenpeace. Greenpeace has documented several cases where industrialized countries have traded toxic waste problems to newly industrializing countries. This trade is environmentally destructive to countries and their people, not to mention immoral. To combat this type of trade, Greenpeace has sought a ban on toxic trade and achieved it through an international treaty called the Basel Convention.
The third greatest issue that Greenpeace concerns itself with is the use of nuclear power, nuclear testing, and nuclear waste. Greenpeace believes that nuclear power should be phased out globally, starting with the immediate closure of the most dangerous reactors. According to Greenpeace, nuclear power is dangerous, dirty, uneconomic and has not provided any energy independence or security. A problem with nuclear power stations is that they create plutonium and other nuclear waste. One of the biggest problems the nuclear industry faces is what to do with that nuclear waste. When fuel rods have finished their life inside a nuclear reactor, they become high-level radioactive waste. Some countries, such as the United States and Sweden store these spent fuel rods in the form in which they come out of the reactor. Other countries like Britain attempt to reprocess these fuel rods, which creates even larger volumes of waste. The mining of uranium for reactors is another problem with the nuclear fuel cycle. In the countries where the mining occurs, radioactive waste and pollution is the byproduct. Uranium mining is also a serious threat to miners’ health if ventilation is inadequate.
Of course, shutting down all nuclear reactors, like Greenpeace advocates will only create more nuclear waste. Shutting down a nuclear reactor produces large quantities of nuclear waste. This is caused by the fact that many of a reactor’s components have become radioactive. Therefore, they cannot simply be thrown away and must be dealt with in some other way. The process of dealing with a nuclear reactor after it is shutdown is called “decommissioning.”
Nuclear waste is produced at every stage in the nuclear fuel cycle, from the mining of uranium to the reprocessing of irradiated fuel and even to “decommissioning.” Nuclear waste remains hazardous for thousands of years. Although this is certainly an environmental issue, the total shutdown of all nuclear power, as Greenpeace advocates, is an idealistic and unreal solution to the problem of nuclear waste.
Another stage of the nuclear fuel cycle that Greenpeace believes is trouble is the transport of nuclear materials. Nuclear waste is transported by sea, land and air. The transport of nuclear materials poses significant risk to human health and the environment.
Nuclear weapons and the testing f nuclear weapons is another part of this issue that Greenpeace strongly opposes. Greenpeace is against nuclear testing of any kind. Since the first nuclear test at Alamogordo, New Mexico in July 1945, the five nuclear weapons states – the United States, Russia, The United kingdom, France and China – have conducted over 2,000 tests. Each of these tests cost somewhere around $70 million and helped add to new generations of nuclear weapons. Finally, in September 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was scripted and in October that same year, 125 countries had signed. This was the first step in stopping nuclear testing. However, it is not the end-all answer. Stopping testing is not the only thing Greenpeace wants. Greenpeace believes that all nuclear weapons production, modernization and deployment should be halted immediately. Greenpeace also wants an agreement to destroy all nuclear weapons.
The achievements of Greenpeace reflect its great impact on the world. Greenpeace’s main principle is to prevent harm to the environment using the concept of non-violent direct action. As Greenpeace has grown and developed it has backed up this direct action with political lobbying and scientific enquiry and the results speak for themselves. In 1999 alone, nine countries banned the use of harmful phthalates in soft PVC toys for children under three; the European Union introduced an “emergency” ban on soft PVC teething toys; a major worldwide medical supplier, Baxter International, announced plans to replace PVC in its products; furniture store IKEA announced it will phase out all wood from ancient forests unless it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); and, following lobbying by Greenpeace, the Environmental Crimes Law in Brazil is now being applied: fines against companies using illegal timber from the Amazon increased dramatically. Other successes include safely storing an abandoned dioxin stockpile at Homebush Bay, Australia.
While Greenpeace’s aggressive style has earned criticism from many sources and led often to conflicts with governments and corporations, its cause is worthy and its philosophy sound. However, Greenpeace seems to over-simplify the problems and solutions. Nuclear power is not as evil as Greenpeace makes it out to be and the demands of Greenpeace to shut down nuclear reactors would cause great economical reparations. The use of phthalates is also not as harmful as Greenpeace claims. In the article “What drives scare science? Phthalates,” Greenpeace is ridiculed as being overly sensitive and is accused of undermining the credibility of scientists. According to the article, the most common phthalate, DEHP, is considered non-toxic and non-irritant. It is approved for use in food packaging materials and PVC that contains DEHP is the only flexible material approved by the European Pharmacopoeia for use in blood and plasma transfusion equipment.
Greenpeace is a worthy organization, but it needs to reevaluate its tactics and get back to earth. The world will not change as easily as Greenpeace seems to believe. Greenpeace’s high ideals blind it to reality. Its intentions are good, but sometimes its actions are not.
Using scare tactics is not the way to go about effecting changes and that is what Greenpeace sometimes resorts to. Scare tactics only needlessly scare the general population and cause governments to react. When using this tactic, Greenpeace undermines its own mission to effect change through peaceful campaigning. This is an issue tat Greenpeace needs to deal with and modify. Greenpeace should continue to lobby governments to address these environmental issues. The environment and the negative effects of pollution, nuclear waste and climate changes affect everyone on this planet.
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