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How Greenpeace Works

Greenpeace Objectives

Greenpeace began in 1971 with the uncomplicated goal of preventing a United States nuclear test on Amchitka Island off the coast of Alaska. Greenpeace initially focused on similar ecological peace protests, like entering the forbidden zones of nuclear test sites to attract the public's attention. Over the decades, Greenpeace has expanded its agenda and now defines its purpose through six primary objectives.

  • Halt climate change. Greenpeace, like most environmental organizations, places fighting global warming at the top of its list. Greenpeace takes a fairly hard line on alternative energy -- it deems nuclear power and clean coal technology, often popular alternatives to traditional fossil fuels, unnecessary or dangerous. Instead, it champions wind power, solar power and biofuels. Greenpeace also suggests governments reduce emissions through carbon trading and carbon taxes.
  • Protect oceans. Greenpeace is perhaps best known for its campaigns to protect whales and other large aquatic animals from hunters and trappers. Greenpeace programs target multiple areas of ocean defense, centering primarily on pollution and unfair or abusive fishing practices.

    Rainbow Warrior II
    Eric Estrade/AFP/Getty Images
    Tuna fishing vessels circle the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior II to prevent it from docking.

  • Save ancient forests. Logging and clear-cutting of ancient forests drive species of plants and animals toward extinction and threaten the lives of people whose survival depends on the forest's resources. Greenpeace protects forests by educating the public about the origin of tropical woods, holding governments accountable for clear-cutting and even by camping in trees to stave off loggers.
  • Achieve disarmament and peace. The world maintains an armory of 30,000 nuclear weapons, and several countries actively pursue the technology to develop even more. Greenpeace's first mission protested nuclear testing, and the organization continues its advocacy of peace and disarmament today. Public opinion polls conducted by Greenpeace show a hearty disapproval of nuclear weapons in armed and unarmed nations, and the organization leverages these statistics to gain way in the disarmament battle.
  • Reduce toxic materials in products. Many electronics and other products contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that are difficult to dispose of and impossible to recycle. Greenpeace studies the effects of these chemicals on water, air and the human body and advocates substituting safer alternatives for dangerous materials.
  • Encourage sustainable agriculture. Greenpeace believes genetically modified crops decrease biodiversity and pose a threat to the food supply. The organization suggests labeling all genetically engineered (GE) ingredients and segregating GE crops to avoid unplanned hybrids.

In the next section, we'll learn about Greenpeace's origins and some notable events in its history.