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Greenpeace and vandalism

December 14th, 2014

In the light of the appalling vandalism undertaken by Greenpeace at Nazca in Peru, I thought I would repost this piece from 2011, published as Greenpeace, an enemy of science. I note that, as in the previous instance, those involved did not turn themselves in. In this case, they have apparently fled the country.

Greenpeace, an enemy of science

Tim Lambert comments on Greenpeace sabotage of a CSIRO experiment on GM crops. Sadly, Greenpeace has become an openly anti-science organisation.

I agree with everything Tim says, but I’d add something more on the politics of this action. This kind of criminal vandalism, in the “right” cause, appeals to the juvenile instincts that nearly all of us retain to some extent, but it has repeatedly proved disastrous for the left, and the environmental movement. It’s worth comparing this kind of action to civil disobedience protests, where people put themselves on the line and openly invite arrest. If these guys had any desire to promote genuine debate they would turn themselves in and defend their actions in open court.

Given the embrace of anti-science and anti-rational views by the political right, it is important that the left and the environmental movement should dissociate themselves entirely from this kind of action. It will be a long time before Greenpeace can regain my support, if they ever do.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:
  1. Brett
    December 14th, 2014 at 03:24 | #1

    I’m just generally appalled at anyone who sabotages GM crop test fields. It shows how the “insufficiently tested” rhetoric they drag out is a lie, since they sabotage the tests designed to see how safe it is.

  2. Jordan
    December 14th, 2014 at 04:52 | #2

    Don’t you know that there is a road trough the plato of Nazca lines and they widened it and paved even after the discovery of lines. Look at this truck stop right by the hands figure.

    What damage by activists on Nazca lines plato?
    The picture doesn’t show any visible damage made by walking and activists. The damage might be visible by standing up close, but none is visible on the pic. They did not leave letters behind nor removed rocks from the spot which is what i could consider as a damage done by acitivists. But there is nothing of the sort. So i think this post is completely a miss.

  3. Jordan
    December 14th, 2014 at 04:54 | #3

    Just look at the response by Peru’s government which is so harsh against Greanpeace activists.

  4. John Quiggin
    December 14th, 2014 at 06:10 | #4

    Sadly I’ve learned to expect this kind of whataboutery whenever one of Greenpeace’s vandalistic stunts goes haywire.

  5. Fran Barlow
    December 14th, 2014 at 07:11 | #5

    I regard the lack of respect shown by Greenpeace for the integrity of an ancient cultural site of enormous value to humanity as appalling. I cannot imagine how any group of their activists could have hatched this plan without realising how far outside of the organisation’s objectives it stood.

    It would have been a simple matter to photoshop the message after all.

  6. J-D
    December 14th, 2014 at 07:49 | #6


    So the principle you’re upholding here is that if somebody does the wrong thing and the government disregards it, that makes it okay for everybody else to do the same thing?

    Is that it?

  7. Nick
    December 14th, 2014 at 08:09 | #7

    I’m with you on destroying scientific trials. I agree wholeheartedly that fronting up and taking responsibility for your actions is a much more admirable and effective form of protest.

    But what ‘irreparable damage’ did these people do again? A bunch of lightweight fabric signs held in place by small stones?

    These relics have lasted 1000 years. They’ve survived countless wind and rain storms. Let’s not get carried away by a few human footprints in the desert.

    Greenpeace are apologising because it ‘looks bad’. Well sure, the yellow they chose is a pretty awful colour…

  8. Peter Chapman
    December 14th, 2014 at 08:19 | #8

    Many years ago I gave money to “fighting funds” to defend arrested or jailed activists in various circumstances… after a time I got wise to myself, and stopped supporting people who engaged in some stunt or other, were (surprise!) arrested, and who then sought the sympathy (and financial support) of myself and others who may have had some broader positive view of their cause. But the courts rarely provide a forum for activists to fully and effectively articulate their arguments, and the activists themselves are rarely as articulate as they may think. Nor are the courts necessarily the best arena in which to undertake a political struggle, whatever the “justice” or “righteousness” of the cause. If a struggle is political (as well as being about the environment, or social justice, or whatever), and support is needed, the protagonists must choose their path carefully. Being a “member” of an organisation that engages in paramilitary activities, is furnished with quasi-military equipment, and which is not democratic, not transparent, and not consultative (let alone evidence-based), becomes a problem for me and others like me. On many issues, whether the focus is the actions of a government or the actions of a protest group, the slogan “Not in my name” comes quickly to mind. We need an effective and well-constructed “extra-parliamentary opposition” and sometimes perhaps we need high-profile symbolic stunts to get attention… but we don’t need vandalism carried out by self-appointed and self-styled “warriors” imbued with a romantic sense of mission that the rest of us have not signed up to.

  9. John Quiggin
    December 14th, 2014 at 08:47 | #9

    As regards Photoshop, they apparently did something of the kind at Macchu Picchu


    As Nick says, none of this compares to destroying experiments, but it certainly doesn’t win them any points with me.

  10. Megan
    December 14th, 2014 at 09:44 | #10

    Not having heard anything about this “appalling vandalism”, I had to look into it.

    I haven’t been following COP20 Lima very closely but it is clear that it is being driven to failure by the usual suspects.

    Nearly a week ago, on 8 December, Greenpeace did a stunt. Here’s how the ‘Vancouver Observer’ reported it (my bold):

    Before dawn today, a group of 20 Greenpeace activists from seven countries unfurled massive letters at the historic landmark of Nazca in Peru, delivering the message: “Time for Change: The Future is Renewable.”

    The message is directed at world leaders and ministers at the ongoing UN climate talks, in Lima, who are failing to take real climate action, while countries like the Philippines, which is again being battered by a massive typhoon, are paying the price of their inaction, according to a media release.

    Speaking from the Philippines, where he is bearing witness to Typhoon Hagupit, Greenpeace International Director Kumi Naidoo said in the release:

    “While one of the largest evacuations in peacetime history was underway here in the Philippines to clear a path for Typhoon Hagupit, a week of talks in Lima has simply not shown enough progress. This is the third year in a row that the people of the Philippines have been hit by extreme weather while most negotiators sit in comfort and fail to deliver the desperately needed action on climate change. Over the next week ministers must examine their conscience and find the energy to put us on the path to end the fossil fuel age and move toward a 100% renewable energy future. The people of the Philippines deserve and expect nothing less.”

    Greenpeace activists from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Spain, Germany, Italy and Austria displayed the message, which can be viewed from the sky, to honour the Nazca people, whose ancient geoglyphs are one of the historic landmarks of Peru. It is believed that one of the reasons for the Nazca’s disappearance can be linked to massive regional climate change. Today, manmade climate change caused by the burning of oil, coal and gas is threatening our future.

    “Companies and individuals should no longer be allowed to profit from destroying the climate and placing communities like those in the Philippines in peril. In 2015, governments, as part of their climate commitments, should require that the profits from major carbon polluting companies are used to make the needed investments to fix this problem,” said Naidoo.

    Typhoon Hagupit, the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, made landfall on Saturday night local time. It has displaced close to 900,000 people. It is the third time in three years that the Philippines has been hit by a typhoon during the UN climate talks, following Pablo/Bopha in 2012 and Yolanda/Haiyan in 2013.

    Greenpeace Philippines’ Jasper Inventor said:

    “Our people are suffering every year from the dangerous impacts of climate change. For countries like the Philippines, this is now a question of survival. The inaction of world leaders is putting our future at risk. Now is the time to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for using our atmosphere as a toilet and ensure major emitting countries commit to ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Now is the time for the Philippines to quit coal.”

    Some major greenhouse gas emitting countries like the EU, US and China earlier this year presented their plans to deal with rising emissions. However, these plans are not enough to keep temperature rise to what is considered a manageable level. Greenpeace continues to call for bold action to force a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy future by 2050 and start the phase out of coal, oil and gas.

    Searching around for the “appalling vandalism” angle I see News Ltd framed it that way 11 hours ago.

    They weren’t the only ones, the local Peruvian press expressed ‘shock, outrage and fury’ too.

    Apparently Greenpeace apologized and promised to do what they could to rectify any damage.

    “Vandalism” surely requires destructive intent. It looks more like “thoughtless” action at worst, and a handy distractive beat-up.

  11. J-D
    December 14th, 2014 at 09:49 | #11

    ‘… The soil has a large amount of lime, which hardens and protects the lines from wind erosion. However, the properties of the ground which has allowed these glyphs to endure for over a millennium are why … footprints can leave marks that will also endure over time. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 in order to preserve the images.

    ‘… Though BBC reports a Greenpeace spokesperson said the protestors were careful not to step on the lines themselves, they have damaged the area surrounding it. This is kind of like using permanent marker to write your name on the Mona Lisa and saying, “It’s okay! At least I didn’t write on her face!”’


  12. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2014 at 11:35 | #12

    This is one of these confected “moral outrage” panics where the crime is vastly smaller than the real crimes being perpetrated against the environment by corporations. If you fall for the trap of over-condemning Greenpeace for this somewhat immature and unwise stunt, then you are falling for the one of the standard tricks of corporate capitalism. They commit flagrant damage to the environment and climate and then point to a relatively minor infraction by someone else (Greenpeace in this instance) and beat it up as the crime of the millenium.

    I note that the media (compliant to corporate oligarchy) scream Greenpeace “may” have damaged the site. Science says we have almost certainly damaged our climate with far more damage to come. I can equally claim that climate change “may” damage this site far more than Greenpeace did. What hypocrisy from the corporate oligarchic establishment! They don’t give a damn for human or ecological heritage anyway.

    There are a lot of “mays” and “mights” in the reporting. There is currently no firm evidence Greenpeace have irrevocably damaged anything. They appear to have taken equal care as is taken in the admitted cases where tourists are in fact still allowed to walk around this site. But of course tourism is sacred because it earns the sacred dollar.

    I personally faced the same hypocrisy when I visited Uluru some time ago. I had intended to make the walk to the top of Uluru (perhaps unwisely and insensitively). However, I paid heed to the written and indeed verbal pleas from local aboriginals and park management. I walked the walking track around the Rock instead and was pleased that I did. It was marvellous what I saw (compared to “peak views” which are somewhat generically similar).

    While I was walking around the Rock, I saw from some different angles busloads of Japanese tourists arriving and trekking up the Rock. I was pretty annoyed at the hypocrisy of it from all concerned except the local aboriginals who I judged to be sincere but still rather powerless in the matter.

    This same kind of hypocisy is being exercised here. Tourists still go there and tourist planes fly over it apparently. You know, an aircraft “may” crash and it “may” crash on the site. What then? Oh and guess what!!! Plane crashes do occur in the vicinity of the Nazcar site. Look it up on the search engine of your choice.

    Here’s one report from Contract Pilot tales.

    “Many tourists take scenic flights over the Nazca lines, as they can only be fully seen from the air. However, in recent years the safety record of flights over the Nazca lines has been dismal:

    7 people died in a February 2010 plane crash during a Nazca flight.
    The plane that crashed in February 2010 had made an emergency landing on a highway in November 2008.
    5 French tourists died in an April 2008 plane crash near Nazca. (see commentary below)
    In June 2010 a light aircraft was reported hijacked over the Nazca lines, and the pilots later turned up in unexplained circumstances in the Peruvian jungle city of Puerto Maldonado.

    Stuart at en Peru had this commentary about the 2008 crash:
    “In March of 2008, five French citizens were killed after mechanical failures caused their plane to crash. The aeroplane was operated by Aeroica (Aero Ica) which had its operations shut down. The company had lied to the press indicating that a passenger panicked and caused the crash. Later investigations found that the plane had no fuel on board – apparently part of a effort to cut costs by having the planes glide back with the engine turned off.”

    I’ve never flown over the Nazca lines, but just casual observation would make me think the safety standards are not good. In some reports there’s talk of the aircraft gliding back to base with the engine purposely cut off to save fuel. I’ve also been told that aviation and technical expertise in Peru is scarce.” – Contract Pilot Tales.

    If this is the state of tourism over the area then a plane crash into the lines sooner or later is quite likely. So spare me the hypocrisy of attacking Greenpeace for a relatively minor infraction when much greater dangers to the site exist, fed as always by capitalism, self-interest and general greed for money.

  13. Nick
    December 14th, 2014 at 11:40 | #13


    J-D, I highly doubt those footprints are going to “endure over time”.

  14. Tony Lynch
    December 14th, 2014 at 12:15 | #14

    This is an instance of JQ in Very Serious Person mode.

  15. sunshine
    December 14th, 2014 at 12:41 | #15

    The damage done ;-
    biomass of humans = 300 million tons
    biomass of farm animals = 700 million tons
    biomass of wild animals cat size and up = 100 million tons.

    from Vaclav Smil ,’The Earths Biosphere ,Dynamics and Change’ (Cambridge, Mass , MIT Press 2002)

  16. jungney
    December 14th, 2014 at 13:21 | #16

    Greenpeace is imperfect. Its corporate structure contradicts the possibility of democratic internal governance and there is a problem with the cynical way that young activists are offered few other the opportunities to engage except soliciting donations while wearing a koala suit. Above all, its corporate structure allows for ready infiltration by opposing forces because people are advanced within the organization without the scrutiny of democratic association.

    Sharon Beder’s critical account of Greenpeaceis recommended. It is an early account of the sort of criticism’s of ‘big green’ that Naomi Klein has recently been advancing in ‘This Changes Everything’.

    At the same time, Greenpeace is an excellent funnel for money and does support numerous independent actions where it does not attempt to control what happens on the ground. It is what we’ve got.

  17. J-D
    December 14th, 2014 at 13:29 | #17

    Nick, you highly doubt it? Oh well, that’s okay then. Somebody should write to the Peruvian government and tell them to stop worrying because Nick on the Web highly doubts it.

    ‘.. The environmental activist group said it would collaborate with the government to determine if any damage was done to the site, and that it would stop using photos of the protest in its campaigns. …’

    I’m sure Greenpeace will be hugely reassured that they don’t have to worry about the possibility of damage having been done because Nick on the Web highly doubts it.

  18. J-D
    December 14th, 2014 at 13:32 | #18


    You think ‘over-condemning’ Greenpeace would be a trap? So how much condemning do you think would be the right level, and what would you consider to be examples of exceeding that level?

  19. Sancho
    December 14th, 2014 at 14:42 | #19

    My thoughts:

    1. I’ve come full circle on the notion of vandalism, and now agree that the reaction to this just highlights how dismissive the public is of environmental vandalism on an industrial scale.

    2. The overall response of Greenpeace supporters provides a classic example of the differences in partisanship between the Left and Right. Overwhelmingly, progressives have taken the attitude that they agree with the goals of Greenpeace, but regard this particular protest as misguided and unhelpful.

    Now imagine how it would go down if a conservative group had done the same thing. The Oz would be demanding we invade Peru, Andrew Bolt would be insisting that the Nazca lines destroy jobs by preventing mining, and right-wing activists would be all over the internet screaming that a vast Incan conspiracy is trying to crush the free speach of patriots.

    The tribes are very different.

  20. Jordan
    December 14th, 2014 at 14:47 | #20

    That is not what i am saying. Maybe in a second comment a little bit, but in my first comment i am saying that there is no visible damage.
    NYT provided photo from JQ provided links does not show any damage to the soil by activists’ feet, There is no difference in hue color of disturbed sand and undisturbed sand. Nazca lines are done still visible due to removal of dark rocks from the light colored sand and shadows of rised edges, not so much from removal of the darker top layer of sand reveling lighter color sand. Such difference in sand layer colors is not noticable.
    Nick also provided photo with up close view of disturbances of top sand by Greenpeace activisits and disturbed sand is showing no signs of diferent color or light diferentiation. The only way that footprints can be recognized is thanks to shadows of it, not through color difference. There is no damage by activists to Nazca lines.

  21. Megan
    December 14th, 2014 at 15:00 | #21

    On 10 December Greenpeace issued the following press release:

    Lima, Peru, 10 December 2014 — Greenpeace releases the following apology about the Nazca Lines protest on December 8th:

    Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our
    recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca Lines. We are deeply
    sorry for this.

    We fully understand that this looks bad. Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and
    possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima UN climate talks, we came across as careless and crass.

    We have now met with the Peruvian Culture Ministry responsible for the site to offer an apology. We welcome any independent review of the consequences of our activity. We will cooperate fully with any investigation.

    We take personal responsibility for actions, and are committed to nonviolence. Greenpeace is
    accountable for its activities and willing to face fair and reasonable consequences.

    Dr Kumi Niadoo, the International Executive Director of Greenpeace, will travel to Lima this week, to personally apologise for the offence caused by the activity and represent the organisation in any on going discussions with the Peruvian authorities.

    Greenpeace will immediately stop any further use of the offending images.

  22. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2014 at 16:13 | #22


    My reply made it pretty clear. Over-condemning them;

    (a) is calling them “vandals” when it is not yet clear that they did any damage at all.
    (b) is calling them “vandals” while remaining silent about everything from climate change to tourist impacts and dangers to Nazca including the very real danger of tourist planes crashing on the site.
    (c) is saying that it was any more than an unwise stunt and mostly unwise from a public relations angle.

    It actually looks to me like they were pretty careful and I find claims of permanent damage to have very little credibility at least at this stage. I find the evidence that the Peruvian government, the tourist industry and global corporations are doing far more damage to the climate and to Nazca to be far more comprehensive and convincing.

    To all the critics of Greenpeace on this occasion I would quote;

    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

    It is pure hypocrisy and a diversion tactic to attack Greenpeace on this occasion for this infraction. I mean by those who beat this up. Others who are joining in with the criticism either agree that Greenpeace should be subject to a beatup attack with little to no substance or they are allowing themselves to be easily manipulated or they bear some kind of personal animus against Greenpeace. Or maybe they know something I don’t know at this stage about the Greenpeace action. The last is always possible.

    The Greenpeace sabotage attack on a CSIRO GM experiment is another issue. That was not ethically defensible.

  23. Nick
    December 14th, 2014 at 16:15 | #23

    J-D, there’s no need to be snide. You have a right to your viewpoint. I have a right to mine. The Peruvian Government certainly has a right to theirs.

    However, since you want to go through the motions, it’s worth noting whatever evidence-based argument you’re trying to mount was ‘irrevocably weakened’ by linking to a sarcastic one-sided hit piece entitled:

    “Greenpeace Irreparably Damage Ancient Nazca Lines”

    When that’s far from having been established.

    You may also wish to consider the logical inconsistency of criticising somebody simply for having an opinion, directly after quoting the following to bolster your argument:

    This is kind of like using permanent marker to write your name on the Mona Lisa and saying, “It’s okay! At least I didn’t write on her face!”

    As if that’s somehow not an opinion. Geez, lock ’em up and throw away the key!

    Fwiw, I based my opinion on photographic evidence of the site in question.

    And, fwiw, it’s not “kind of like”. It is nothing like.

  24. J-D
    December 14th, 2014 at 17:43 | #24


    Since John Quiggin used the term ‘vandalism’, he’s caught within the scope of your definition of ‘over-condemning’, so your challenge ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ ought to apply to him; but what then is the metaphorical plank in his eye? He hasn’t done anything to the Nazca lines, has he?

  25. J-D
    December 14th, 2014 at 17:49 | #25


    You are incorrect in this much: I did not criticise you, or anybody, simply for having an opinion.

  26. Megan
    December 14th, 2014 at 19:38 | #26

    As is usually the case, there is reason for circumspection in accepting the establishment media narrative.

    There seems to be little doubt that the Peruvian government takes heritage seriously, especially because of the tourist dollars it brings.

    But they also have an extremely poor record on police and military violence against social/environmental protesters and activists. The police have been caught in corruption scandals involving them working directly for mining and resource interests.

    This year the government passed a law which essentially allows the police and military to kill environmental protesters with impunity.

    It is called Law 30151.

    Extract from the ‘Peruvian Times’ [15/1/14]:

    Peru’s government has modified an article in the Penal Code that critics say will allow police and the military to use deadly force without facing any consequences.

    The modification to the law was published in Peru’s official gazette on Monday, carrying the signatures of President Ollanta Humala and Premier Cesar Villanueva.

    The new regulation says that members of the Armed Forces and the National Police are “exempt from criminal responsibility” if they cause injury or death through the use of their guns or other weapons while on duty.

    Critics say the change is worrisome, and could easily lead to abuse. Police are often brought in to break up protests by rural residents opposed to natural resource projects in the Andes and the rainforest. Those conflicts often become violent, and have in the past led to a number of deaths. Police use live ammunition at all times.

    Forensic anthropologist Jose Pablo Baraybar, who has exhumed the graves of human rights victims in Peru and other countries, said that the modification to the law gives the police and military “complete freedom,” a “blank check.”

    However, with this law, some 139 police and military, currently on trial for causing injuries or deaths to civilians, could be released from all charges. According to the Constitution, a law can be retroactive when applied to a criminal case and if it favors the accused.

    Perhaps the Minister’s reaction to the greenpeace action was coloured to some extent by this background.

  27. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2014 at 20:41 | #27


    I have a plank in my own eye now after over-criticising J.Q and lumping him in with the right on this issue. It is best I say no more.

    Probably a good rule of thumb is that if one is starting to quote from the Bible one is becoming seriously over-rightous. Being a militant agnostic I have no excuse for such a deplorable mistake.

  28. December 15th, 2014 at 00:05 | #28

    Since when has criminal vandalism proven ineffective for the environmental movement, or the animal rights movement? It’s a hugely effective tactic. But what Greenpeace did in Nazca is not vandalism, it’s either thoughtless criminal stupidity or harmless depending on the truth about the site. It is not destruction intended to delay or prevent an industrial process, as is the vandalism referenced in the OP; it’s a stupid mistake apparently brought about by the thoughtlessness of western elitist demonstrators [putting aside that some of the members involved were from middle-income countries].

    Did John Quiggin object to the dudes who vandalized the Opera House in protest against the Iraq war? I suspect not. This post is actually not about vandalism at all, but about JQ’s continuing attempts to paint Greenpeace as anti-science because they disagree with him on GMOs. And where is the low-GI wheat that the CSIRO were trialling in 2009? Still not on the market. Not that it would matter, since diabetes and obesity are not going to be fixed by making a new form of wheat, but by addressing the social and structural factors that make people fat. There is no health or nutrition problem that is solved by GMOs, but there are a lot of corporate balance sheet issues that can be fixed by new crops …

  29. James Wimberley
    December 15th, 2014 at 00:52 | #29

    @Fran Barlow
    My understanding is that Greenpeace is structurally Leninist. Authority emanates from an unaccountable centre rather than rising democratically from the base. The International Olympic Committee has a similar form – the national committees are emanations of the IOC, not the other way round. Lenin did not invent the scheme, which goes back I suppose to the Catholic Church and other versions of Christianity accepting the apostolic succession.

    Such centralisation has virtues. The Greenpeace position on anything is always clear, right or wrong. Cf the Vatican. It is possible for it to plan and carry out effective media stunts requiring secrecy and often courage. But these advantages are outweighed by institutional arrogance and lack of consultation.

  30. Megan
    December 15th, 2014 at 01:06 | #30

    Never mind all that stuff, I’m going to buy some flowers from a Turkish website that likes quoting comments from this site.

    Hope they don’t sell anything from [email protected]! I might not be able to get through their rigorous security measures.

  31. Ikonoclast
    December 15th, 2014 at 08:24 | #31

    I would be and am far more critical of Greenpeace for selling out than for any supposed vandalism at Nazca. Sharon Beder’s article linked to by jungney sums up the sellout.

    The base problem is capitalism itself. Until capitalism goes nothing will change. How will capitalism go? It will destroy itself.

  32. Tim Macknay
    December 15th, 2014 at 11:51 | #32


    Being a militant agnostic

    LOL. I take this to mean that you ferociously condemn atheists and believers alike for their foolishness in having a settled view on the matter.

    On the topic of the OP, I tend to agree with you and Megan that the spittle-flecked reaction to this is quite overblown, particularly as (at this stage) there doesn’t appear to be any real evidence of damage to the site. Other than that it involves Greenpeace, the situation doesn’t really resemble the destruction of the GM experiments in 2011, which was a deliberate act of vandalism.

  33. jungney
    December 15th, 2014 at 11:52 | #33

    A realistic appraisal of the specialised environment movement, by which I mean not people but the major NGOs – in Australia that would be the Greenpeace, the WWF, Planet Ark, the ACF, TWS, the NSW NCC and similar, and in the US, the Sierra Club and a host of others – have failed abysmally to halt either rampant ecocide or cc. This message is predictably unwelcome but it must be faced. The professional green bureaucracy only developed because of its acceptance of the neoliberal faith in market based solutions.

    The broader movement, those of who either gave money to these NGOs or bought ‘green’ product in the belief that this would ‘fix the problem’, need to get back to the drawing board and promptly.

  34. Ivor
    December 15th, 2014 at 13:16 | #34

    Greenpeace are not vandals, they are not enemies of science.

    This is just psy-war by an academic economist..

  35. Ikonoclast
    December 15th, 2014 at 15:24 | #35


    Yes, they and we have failed miserably to halt ecocide and AGW. But blame is not really the way to look at it. Many people thought that capitalism could be reformed. Maybe that was a reasonable hope at one point. We have enough empirical evidence now to know that capitalism is not reformable. Neither is capitalism stoppable. It has to blow itself out just as a hurricane has to blow itself out.

  36. jungney
    December 15th, 2014 at 17:57 | #36

    Yair. The future looks a little Easter Island-ish to me as well. However, there will be opportunities to amplify moments of open rebellion in the near future in which I fully intend to participate. Might as well go down swinging. You just never know.

  37. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    December 15th, 2014 at 22:55 | #37

    Maybe the CSIRO haven’t gotten their new strains on the market because someone mysteriously destroyed their trial crops?

  38. Cat Dorey
    December 16th, 2014 at 10:56 | #38

    Whatever you may think of Greenpeace, it does you no favours to misreport on their activities.

    Contrary to your assertions, Greenpeace does take responsibility for what it does.

    The activists involved in the GM activity you refer to certainly DID turn themselves into police, co-operated fully in the investigation, and pleaded guilty in court. They were fined and the activists received a suspended sentence.

    Greenpeace Exec Director has publicly apologised for the Nazca activity, and promised full co-operation in any investigation. Far from hiding from their actions, the activists were photographed placing the lettering, which were released publicly.

    I look forward to your apology and to seeing your blogs corrected.

  39. Donald Oats
    December 16th, 2014 at 15:52 | #39

    Greenpeace are good advocates for many environmental issues. Sometimes they engage in tactics which are illegal, but not only illegal, of questionable ethics. I have a very dim view of their attack upon CSIRO GM crop trials. If they were that concerned about what might happen if these GM crops were allowed into the environment, then traipsing around ripping up experimental crop plants, and then walking out into open air, is hardly the way to go about it. The protective greenhouse environment, didn’t that mean anything to Greenpeace? Nope, did not think that far ahead. Finally, what if that trial had demonstrated the GM crops weren’t going to work at all? We’ll never know now.

    Advocacy without destruction is a far better approach, surely.

    On a different note, for those people who have friends that insist their was a “pause” in global temperature warming, I strongly recommend a look at Tamino’s website. It is a bit statistical, but he writes so well, it should be clear enough to get the gist. Tell your friends to go look at it: it might not convince them, but hey, it’s always worth a try.

  40. Donald Oats
    December 16th, 2014 at 15:55 | #40

    Damn grammar correction: In the comment’s final paragraph, first sentence, I meant “there”, not “their”. Grrr.

  41. Neil
    December 17th, 2014 at 04:27 | #41

    @Cat Dorey
    Well, considering they video taped themselves destroying the experiment and then proudly posted pictures online….it was fairly obvious they were going to get caught and be found guilty. Best chance they had to avoid a permanent criminal record was to throw themselves on the mercy of the court.

    I believe they also had to repay the cost of the trial ($200,000+) to the CSIRO. So remember the next time you donate money to Greenpeace that it could end up being used to support research into GM agriculture. And paying lawyers fees to keep their clowns out of prison..or get them out of Russian prisons…

    It surprises me that people still donate to Greenpeace when there are so many better, science-based environmental NGOs (National Geographic, WWF, Nature Conservancy etc) that are more deserving of the support.

  42. December 17th, 2014 at 09:05 | #42

    @Donald Oats
    Donald, for those who insist that there has been a pause in global warming I suggest posting a graph of global temperature anomolies and then asking them to move their finger along the five year mean from what ever point they say the pause started at and then asking if their finger is higher or lower than when they started. I think this is the kindest method. After all, it’s a bit cruel to ask them to actually read something. But oddly enough, no one has ever thanked me for doing this.

  43. Ikonoclast
    December 17th, 2014 at 09:51 | #43

    @Ronald Brak

    Good one Ronald! They are neither literate nor numerate nor even “grapherate”. But one hopes they know difference between up and down and can see as far as their fingertip.

  44. John Quiggin
    December 17th, 2014 at 11:37 | #44

    @Cat Dorey

    As I recall, the posted video did not contain an unambiguous admission of guilt, though obviously those involved were convicted. Do you have evidence that they handed themselves in.

    Certainly, this hasn’t happened in the Peru case. The official apology is progress, and undercuts the defenders of vandalism in the thread above, but there is no sign that those responsible are willing to present themselves for arrest.

  45. tony Lynch
    December 17th, 2014 at 11:40 | #45

    Storm. Teacup. Moral posturing.

  46. John Quiggin
    December 17th, 2014 at 11:41 | #46


    If there is one debating tactic that really irks me, it’s making accusations of hypocrisy on the basis of an evidence-free assumption. I don’t recall the vandalism of the Opera House, but on looking it up, it’s exactly the kind of juvenile stuff I deplored in the post. Why would you expect me to think otherwise?

    I await, but don’t expect, an apology.

  47. December 17th, 2014 at 18:08 | #47

    I’m sorry John, I assumed you would see it as direct action and were restricting your criticisms of vandalism to the environmental movement (I inferred this from your post). I don’t agree with a consistent opposition to vandalism, but I’m sorry for making an accusation of hypocrisy when none applies.

    I think you are wrong about petty vandalism not benefiting the left or, more specifically, the environmental movement. Almost all progress on animal rights has arisen from vandalism, and almost certainly the Sea Shepherd movement have singlehandedly brought Japan’s whaling practices to world attention and forced them into the international courts through vandalism. Almost all the early gains in ethical treatment of animals for research are due to vandalism, not direct action, and no I’m not referring to recent allegations of violent threats but to actions in the 1980s. Pretty much all the gains in forestry protection in Australia have arisen from confrontational tactics, and the poll tax was not stopped in the UK by direct action but by violence. The use of such tactics gains importance as the government moves installations further away from scrutiny, as in the case of asylum seekers being increasingly detained where we can’t get to them, and also military bases like Woomera – you’ll never be able to field a Greenham Common style protest at Woomera, but you might be able to break in and damage it (something that has been done in other countries too).

    But most especially the environmental and animal rights movements have made major gains through this, and it’s particularly effective when there is a pressing need for reform in secretive institutions but the broad mass of people don’t support or don’t know about the movement trying to achieve that reform.

    My understanding is that the suffragettes’ political strategy included smashing stuff. It’s not an ineffective tactic.

  48. Ikonoclast
    December 17th, 2014 at 19:01 | #48

    @John Quiggin

    If there’s one moralising tactic that really irks me it’s pointing to the relatively minor infractions of those protesting against the horrendous damage inflicted by the capitalist establishment as they go about destroying the planet. When did you become such a bourgeois apologist?

  49. John Quiggin
    December 17th, 2014 at 20:36 | #49

    “Pretty much all the gains in forestry protection in Australia have arisen from confrontational tactics”

    As I said in the OP, there’s a huge difference between “confrontational” civil disobedience and criminal vandalism. I’m not aware of any important instances of the latter in the Oz forest campaign, other than in the form of rumors about vandalism spread by the other side of the dispute – an indication of how counterproductive these tactics are.

  50. Donald Oats
    December 17th, 2014 at 21:26 | #50
  51. Megan
    December 17th, 2014 at 22:04 | #51

    @John Quiggin

    In my opinion that is a genuinely “grey” area.

    I’m a bit surprised you don’t remember the “No War” slogan/protest/vandalism on the Sydney Opera House on the eve of the illegal war of aggression in March 2003. I remember it vividly.

    “We” were trying desperately to stop a war of choice that was obviously illegal and purportedly justified by lies. Everyone knew they were lies. “We” were trying to prevent, although we couldn’t be sure at the time, the destruction of a country, 1 million civilian deaths and the displacement of 4 million human beings.

    The largest anti-war protest in history had no effect as the establishment media and political class screamed the pro-war propaganda. The protest was also unique in that it happened before the war it was protesting.

    I fully accept that painting the Opera House with a blood-red “NO WAR” sign was ‘vandalism’. But I am surprised you describe it, in those circumstances, as “exactly the kind of juvenile stuff I deplored in the post”.

    From a piece on this blog [19th March 2003] titled “Iraq as a precedent” by JQ:

    The majority of the population in nearly all democratic countries has formed the judgement that the supposed justification of the US is not well-founded, but the attack is going ahead anyway.

    This brings me to one final point. There’s been a lot of discussion of the inadequacies of the UNSC, its unrepresentativeness etc, and in a sense all of this is true. The fact remains that the UNSC has responded to the considered opinion of the majority of the world’s population, while the ‘coalition of the willing’ has not.

    Granted, the “vandalism” didn’t prevent the war. But neither did anything else.

    And, to quote from the article you linked to:

    It also split the country between those shocked by the vandalism of a national icon, and others who supported the anti-war message.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t you placed yourself in the former category (ie ‘those shocked by the vandalism of a national icon) as opposed to the latter (others whos supported the message)?

  52. Ivor
    December 17th, 2014 at 22:16 | #52

    Criminal vandalism does not even come into consideration.

    According to here:


    Greenpeace only:

    lay a bright yellow banner urging a switch to renewable energy.

    and it was next to the geoglyph.

    CocaCola execuitives are probably thinking – Damn, why didn’t we think of that!

    Next year QANTAS may want to stick their choir there to call Australia Home.

    It is all a rabid over reaction by those with rings through their noses.

  53. John Quiggin
    December 17th, 2014 at 23:15 | #53


    I don’t see why I am supposed to pick sides based on some journalist’s dichotomy. I don’t imagine the vandalism had much effect, but any effect it did have was almost certainly to push some undecideds into the pro-war camp.


    Oddly enough, I was just wondering how commenters would react if the Peruvian government had sold Coca-Cola the rights to do this kind of stunt.

  54. Nick
    December 18th, 2014 at 00:32 | #54

    The Nazca exercise can be criticised on the grounds of cultural values. But cultural values (as we’re so often reminded) are relative. They need to be weighed up against the merits of what’s being protested, and what and how it was achieved. Every situation is different. In the case of the Sea Shepherd, most people have agreed the cultural value of the Japanese being able to eat traditional whale meat doesn’t suffice. In the case of the attacks on the CSIRO’s GM research crops, most people (here at least, including myself) appear to have decided the opposite, regardless of their broader views of the agricultural science and food production industries.

    As far as the Nazca signs being vandalism, they might not have achieved much at all, but they didn’t destroy or deface anyone’s property. At worst they left a few footprints behind in the desert. Big whoop. If Coca-Cola were to lease out space at Nazca from the Peruvian government, and especially if the Peruvian people were offended by it, I think I’d find that a pretty easy one to weigh up in my head. I can even imagine Greenpeace travelling there to protest it, and I wouldn’t see that as hypocritical in the slightest.

  55. Megan
    December 18th, 2014 at 00:35 | #55

    @John Quiggin

    Of course the establishment media’s false dichotomy is a trap.

    It was possible to be against the “vandalism” and ALSO against the War.

    But rather than that, you say:

    I don’t imagine the vandalism had much effect, but any effect it did have was almost certainly to push some undecideds into the pro-war camp.

    Almost certainly to push some “undecideds” into the pro-war camp???

    Right. So there I am, driving across the Harbour Bridge – or reading the Daily Rupert, or listening to Radio Rupert (the ABC) – in March 2003, and I’m thinking “Am I pro-war or anti-war? I wish I could decide.”

    And then I see/hear about these activists who climb the Opera House and paint “NO WAR” on it. So I – “almost certainly” – say, “That’s it. I’m all in favour of this war now.”?

    Would you frame your argument that way, or differently?

  56. Megan
    December 18th, 2014 at 00:44 | #56

    This is just a general comment. Not directed at anyone in particular.

    I have noticed over the last few years that just as deciduous trees start to sprout leaves or flowers bloom at the end of winter, as we approach an election some people start to grow political blinkers.

    Otherwise logical people start to appear mentally/psychologically/morally/intellectually contorted as the prepare to do whatever is necessary to “back” their chosen tribe.

    Illogical criticism of greens and vanishing criticism of the ALP seem to be particular indicia amongst ALP supporters, in my observation.

  57. December 18th, 2014 at 01:55 | #57

    If you are pushed into supporting a war that killed a million people and spawned ISIS by some dudes painting an opera house, then you are a fool.

    John, I suggest you research the direct action tactics of australian anti wood chipping protesters a little more. Sabotage and vandalism was a part of the tactics. Also, why single out just them? Why ignore the alf, suffragettes and sea shepherds?

  58. John Quiggin
    December 18th, 2014 at 03:31 | #58

    If you are pushed into supporting a war that killed a million people and spawned ISIS by some dudes painting an opera house, then you are a fool.

    True, but at least as much so if you need something like that to convince you.

    As regards the forestry issue, here’s the case of Gunn’s using accusations of sabotage as a cover for attempts to suppress free speech. Had they been able to prove sabotage (as opposed to protests that disrupted operations) they would have had both a legal and PR victory.

    As I said last time you raised the suffragettes, this is an Australian blog. Australian women got the vote through peaceful agitation, which casts a lot of doubt on the claim that the tactics of the UK suffragists advanced their cause. The extension of suffrage came in 1918, after four years during which protest was almost entirely abandoned.

    On Sea Shepherd, they reject accusations of sabotage, and instead accuse Japan of engaging in sabotage against them. If you want to endorse the claims of the Institute of Cetacean Research, go right ahead


  59. J-D
    December 18th, 2014 at 06:49 | #59


    John Quiggin did not assert that if a person was previously undecided, the painting of a sign on the Opera House would almost certainly push that person into supporting the war.

    What he did assert was that it would almost certainly have that effect on ‘some’ undecideds: not all, not most (and not you in particular), but some.

    It may be hard to imagine that the incident would push anybody into supporting the war; but to me, at least, it is even harder to imagine that it would push anybody into opposing the war. Probably (I think, and so, I gather, does John Quiggin) most people found their stance on the war unaffected: but of the tiny number whose stance did shift, John Quiggin estimates that practically all would have shifted towards support, not towards opposition. (I agree with this estimate.)

  60. Ivor
    December 18th, 2014 at 08:10 | #60

    @John Quiggin

    If Coca-Cola placed a advert there, commentators would congratulate them on their creativity and artistic flair. They may even get nominated for annual advertising industry creativity awards.

    However those opposed to global capitalist tax-dodging multinationals would complain about exploitation of indigenous culture, crass commercialism, and excess power of such corporations. If these activists tried to claim “criminal vandalism” etc, they would be regarded as extreme radical comments not worth considering.

    The current campaign is an opportunist flanking rightwing attack against Greenpeace, not a proportionate response drawn from common sense.

  61. John Quiggin
    December 18th, 2014 at 08:25 | #61

    Here’s an actual instance of Coca-Cola doing this kind of thing as “guerilla marketing”. Coca-Cola got the same reaction as Greenpeace, except that no one was silly enough to support them, and they backed down immediately.


  62. John Quiggin
    December 18th, 2014 at 08:33 | #62

    Not directed at anyone in particular either, but I’m a Greens supporter (in both party political and general movement terms). That’s why I feel the need to criticise mistakes that are likely to harm the Green cause, rather than reflexively circling the wagons, and making the movement look even worse.

  63. Ivor
    December 18th, 2014 at 09:20 | #63

    @John Quiggin


    Spray painting is VERY, VERY, VERY different to “laying”.

    How much intellectual ability does it take to spot the difference.

    What charges were threatened or laid against those responsible.

    Did Coca-Cola give up their names?

  64. December 18th, 2014 at 10:31 | #64

    John, I have read watson’s biography. They made a name for themselves ramming ships and damaging property. They still do that in other campaigns (e.g. Against tuna fishing). A similar organization in Europe that raids fishing boats uncovered serious slavery that the EU institutions covering the industry were ignoring. Forest protection groups in Australia have long used sabotage, and as have anti war groups across the world. And suggesting activists should avoid things that might lead to legal defeat is useless as a tactic, as them coined duo discovered, and those people whose lives were ruined by undercover cops in the uk. Where major corporate interests act with impunity far from observation, direct action of the kind you describe doesn’t work. This is why animal rights activists and environmentalists have always used these tactics. You can’t hold a demonstration in the southern ocean, or a heavily protected research lab, and if no one knows what is happening in the lab because government and corporations guarantee secrecy, someone needs to break in and steal evidence. Opposition to vandalism per se (rather than just specific dumb examples) basically enervates environmental and animal rights protest.

  65. John Quiggin
    December 18th, 2014 at 11:31 | #65

    “Forest protection groups in Australia have long used sabotage,”

    So you keep saying. Evidence? Evidence where this tactic has succeeded?

    TWS and others repeatedly deny charges like those you are making, presenting them as frame-ups by the logging industry.


    If, as you say, the charges are actually true, despite the denials, how does this work? It’s not on a sufficient scale to affect the economics of logging, and the denials make it useless as publicity.

  66. Newtownian
    December 18th, 2014 at 12:51 | #66

    I second your position that this is a grey area.

    On the one hand and to get it out of the way the Greenpeace subgroup who did this were morons. Conflict resolution 101 is don’t piss people off unnecessarily let alone stomp all over the locals knowledge and traditions. If only because your enemies will use this against you.

    Speaking to a colleague whose wife is Peruvian he told me the locals are as passionately proud and protective as catholics would be of the Sistine Chapel. Meanwhile environmental management 101 says holistically evaluate potential impacts of activities bearing in mind locale sensitivity.

    That Greenpeace failed on both counts AND failed to include locals is mindbogglingly stupid but not altogether surprising. One possible reason is intergenerational alienation or the generation gap. To illustrate a few years back while I was working at the local offices of a different older environmental NGO they received this delegation from the organisation of “Young Enviromentalists” (name modified). Anyway they proceeded to lecture about 20 seasoned compaigners and internationally recognised conservation academics. The latter listened with what can best be described as patient bemusement as they were told it was important to protect the natural environment. It was a great lesson in the need to constant repeating of old wisdoms and how easily they can be lost over the years.

    Unfortunately it is a truism that as a society we forget and so each generation has to relearn lessons. I think that may have happenned here. We have seen another example this week in Sydney. At least to judge by the media the suggestion seems to be such an event as Martin Place could never happen here…forgetting the various massacres in the 1980s and 1990s, the bombing of the Hilton Hotel, the attempts at destroying aboriginal culture and arguably the Bali Bombing to mention other traumatic events which are still within living memory but seem to have been forgotten by so many.

    Separately in large organizations at times its a fact that “Shit Happens” because “Life wasnt meant to be easy” to quote 2 coalition prime ministers.

    On the other side there is a need to understand why Greenpeace people do things which go beyond the pale at times and may do so increasingly and need to forgive the stuff ups or place them in proper perspective. Two years back a very large chunk of the Arctic Ocean melted way in advance of model predictions. Greenpeace to their credit which seems to have been forgotten here by many, publicized this through doing their own confirmatory measurements as posted in the Guardian for example. Without them I doubt the story and its significance would have got the public profile it did and continues to have.

    Yet in face of this full blown canary in the coal mine, that the hour is very late, Lima is still about making plans for making plans. If there is a need to damn anyone it is the need to damn governments and their representative especially the likes of Julie Bishop a troll of the first order (see recent Guardian deconstruction of her speech) who stand a good chance of being seen in the longer future as evil to a degree comparable to legendary historical monsters such as the Inquisition and WW1 generals of the Western Front who were simply applying current management theory.

    For these reasons and considering all the good Greenpeace and all other progressive environmental NGOs have done I find much of the above criticism on balance of this event and other protests that go wrong, disturbingly bourgeois in that they overlook the question – if we confine protest to ‘civilized forms’ can we expect real change sufficiently and in time? I think the answer is absolutely NO.

    Thus we may not always like what Greenpeace does to highlight unfolding environmental catastrophes. But I will always agree on balance they have style and we would be extremely worse off without them.

  67. John wilkins
    December 18th, 2014 at 14:08 | #67

    I let my greens membership lapse because of the childish and illogical attitude of the party regarding genetic engineering. IT is silly to conflate anti-science vandalism with totally unrelated issues like forestry.

  68. John wilkins
    December 18th, 2014 at 14:18 | #68

    Btw, what country has stopped whaling or tuna fishing or implementented a comprehensive and effective program to protect the world’s forests as a result of violent protests?

  69. December 19th, 2014 at 19:56 | #69

    What country has ever declared that their environmental legislation is due to a particular form of community action? We’re all just guessing at what works and what doesn’t. Paul Watson in his biography points out specific actions that the Sea Shepherds took and lays claim to legislative consequences such as the IWC being beefed up, changes to long line fishing practices, that sort of thing. A lot of the achievements that come from “criminal vandalism” are in smaller, regulatory fields rather than big practices. For example, no one ever signed national legislation outlawing animal testing because of what the ALF did, but there were sweeping changes to regulatory practices and ethics approval processes in the aftermath of their raids. The same with fur farming, chicken farming, feedlot practices, and so on. How do you think the live cattle trade to Indonesia was busted, by people staging die-ins? No, someone stole some footage.

    Big agricultural and woodchipping interests don’t reform because of demonstrations by a couple of hippies in Sydney and Melbourne. They reform because the cost of doing business goes up, and the risk of exposure increases. Increasing the cost of business means on the ground disruption and vandalism, and increased risk of exposure means trespass and theft. These may not always be the right tactical decisions, but much environmental, agricultural and animal welfare policy is driven by them, as are voluntary reforms by industry. If you oppose vandalism on a particular issue because you think they’re wrong about the issue, as John does with Greenpeace on GMOs, then argue about the issue, don’t try and discredit the organization by jumping up and down over a tactic that has a long track record of success.

    And certainly don’t conflate that tactic with a stupid mistake that was not intended to be vandalism, and which may not have done any damage at all!

  70. John Wilkins
    December 20th, 2014 at 00:50 | #70

    ” How do you think the live cattle trade to Indonesia was busted, by people staging die-ins? ”

    Busted? Where is the evidence that cattle now get better treated in Indonesia? I fail to see any evidence of any net gain.

    ” a stupid mistake that was not intended to be vandalism, and which may not have done any damage at all!”

    Frog droppings. How about I come to your place and do a nice big steaming stunt in your living room because you have a different opinion from mine? When I lived in Oz I supported positive environmental groups that make things happen, like Nature Conservancy, with cold hard cash and time. Greenpeace is an undemocratic corporate monolith that hoovers up hundreds of millions of dollars that would be better invested elsewhere.

    Bored now.

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