ADDED NOTE: I changed the name of this post because some chose to shift the focus of the discussion from Greenpeace’s horrendous act in Peru to whether or not my reaction is appropriate, as though I had done damage to some historic site or harpooned a whale. I live in Minnesota. I am not affected by arguments that certain reactions to a crime make the crime tolerable. But I want to take the focus off me, and return it to Greenpeace. The rest of this post has also been modified to include a statement that makes very clear why what Greenpeace did was wrong, and why it is alarming and requires very a very explicit and strong response from Greenpeace.
Another excuse that has been given is that Greenpeace is big and complex and contains many parts, only one of those parts involved in the desecration of a heritage site. This is true enough, and does related to parsing what actually happened and deciding which individuals should turn themselves in to the Peruvian authority. But it is also true that Greenpeace as a brand is a powerful thing, and that brand is what is at stake here. Look at the damn picture they made. It says “Greenpeace.” It does not say “Some subset of Greenpeace, not all of Greenpeace.”
A man who loots a Native American site in an area he needed a permit to access may have his ability to get a permit to enter that area taken away for life. Greenpeace did something similar, but possibly much larger than what any one person in search of some pottery to sell could have done. So, what should happen to make this right? I have also been criticized (privately) for apparently indicating that I know nothing of the great things Greenpeace has done in the past, from a reading of the first paragraph of my original post (below). Sorry, but that is entirely beside the point and also inaccurate. “I’m sure Greenpeace has done a lot of great things” is a bone I’m throwing to Greenpeace for one purpose and one purpose only; I’m not too interested in entertaining right wing slams on a major environmental organization that has done a lot of good. Take it or leave it.
I’m sure Greenpeace has done a lot of great things, saved some whales, etc. etc., but the organization has recently carried out an abominable act that requires the institutional equivalent of a very very long jail term, or, what the hell, let’s make it a death sentence.
Greenpeace needs to shut down as an organization. Right now. People’s objection to this strong statement has taken the spotlight off of this horrendous act, so I crossed it out. I still think it, but now maybe the focus can go back on Greenpeace.
Greenpeace activists entered a restricted area in Peru, where the Nazca lines are located. They drove into the area, and walked around there, and laid out banners. The banners were then photographed from the air (from a drone, as I understand it) to produce a message supporting renewable something. I’m guessing energy. The message was not clear. Nor was the link between their big yellow banners and the sacred and ancient Nazca lines.
This is an abuse of the cultural patrimony of Peru and the native people’s who have lived there.
In this fragile environment, footprints constitute irreparable damage.
One of the Nazca lines was apparently damaged directly, the area around the lines trodden.
As an advocate of renewable energy and supporter of taking action to move in that direction, and an archaeologist, I deeply resent Greenpeace using the Nazca lines as a propaganda tool, and I condemn Greenpeace for thoughtless damaging this important archaeological site.
I can see going after a whaling ship, illegally. But what exactly did the cultural and historical patrimony of Peru, what exactly did the extraordinary unique archaeological site of Nazca, ever do to a whale, or the environment, or to the environmental movement, or to Greenpeace?
All those who love and respect the past and archaeological resources, and who at the same time feel that we need to act on important issues such as climate change (and saving the whales) need to step away from Greenpeace and find a different organization or activity to support.
I call for the appropriate leadership of Greenpeace to resign, the board of directors to resign, the organization to turn all those involved (including in a supervisory capacity, and a planning capacity) over to the Peruvian authorities for prosecution,
and for the organization to abrogate itself as the only way to truly express the appropriate level of shame and remorse. Greenpeace needs to cease to exist as a show of deference to a cultural symbol that will likely outlive humanity itself. Again, modified to shift focus. Greenpeace is dead to me. But what will provide redress? At the very least, Greenpeace needs to create, publicize, and implement a policy that prohibits the use of cultural heritage as a tool in its activism.
Greenpeace has been willing in the past to break the law. That is what they are famous for, and it is probably where they have been most effective. Not only have they broken the law, but they’ve broken the Law of the Sea, which is one of the oldest and most traditional cultural concepts we have in the west. They have, effectively, committed piracy.
This was done for a greater good, and turns out (as I understand it) to have been pretty effective activism, partly because every act of piracy to save a whale does get a huge amount of attention (and has other whale saving effects). It helps that the bad guys are really bad, and the good guys are innocent whales. This is not just civil disobedience, which at certain times and places people grow inured to. This is spectacular, it is dangerous enough to die doing, it is not something where they book you and a thousand others and let you go later that day.
It is impossible to not respect this, but it is also necessary to recognize what it is at the core. This is an organization deciding to systematically identify and intentionally break a certain category of national (from various countries) and international (as vague as that may be) law for a greater good.
With this act in Peru, Greenpeace has made a clear statement. It is a clear statement because this was an act that required organization, funding, decision making, meetings, an OK from various levels up and down the line, etc. at least within the unit of Greenpeace involved. They’ve made a clear statement that Greenpeace as an organization is willing to break the law in an entirely new area. They are willing to violate laws that protect heritage sites. That is a new thing as far as I know for them (though I’ve heard otherwise, see links below). And it is deeply disturbing. It can’t be just a few people involved in this and incidentally using the Greenpeace name.
And it isn’t just breaking the law. Any operation involving Nazca would involve research and knowing something about what they are up against. You can’t plan a project using Nazca and not be aware of the delicacy of the environment, of the fact that numerous people and one or more vehicles on the ground will unavoidably ruin parts of the site. Leaving a footprint at Nazca is like leaving a footprint on the moon (almost). It is nearly as permanent as the lines themselves. Everyone who knows anything about Nazca knows this. These Greenpeace activists must have known this.
So, Greenpeace has made a SECOND statement with this act. Greenpeace has clearly shown that it is willing not only to break Heritage laws in some trivial and non destructive way, but Greenpeace as an organization is willing to physically and permanently damage heritage sites. Imagine for a moment the reverse; harpooning a whale to save a pyramid.
Greenpeace has also made a THIRD statement with this act. Greenpeace has indicated that it is willing to break heritage law, AND damage a heritage site, for the purpose of making a picture. No whales were saved during the partial eternal destruction of a heritage site. No gyre of garbage was cleaned up while the regional indigenous culture was unceremoniously thrown under the bus. If there was a heritage site who’s preservation was actually doing the equivalent of killing whales (there are such conflicts though mostly involving plants) this might make sense. But this was a heritage site utterly unrelated to anything in the way of conservation or environment being exploited because it is famous to make a vague and not especially effective message.
Looking at this strictly from the point of view of a Greenpeace supporter, consider the implications. Now, there is a photograph of a major, very well known (one of the most well known non-Egyptian sites) locality with a message superimposed on it that, regardless of the intention, says “Greenpeace is willing to damage a heritage site” written across it in orange.
So, the final point is this: Greenpeace is known as an organization willing to break laws, in a big way, to make a larger point. Now, Greenpeace tell us that it is willing to include Heritage laws in that activism. Apologies, consternations, statements of conciliation are not of any interest to me at this point. The individuals and communities that support indigenous rights and heritage can’t afford to extend trust in this sort of situation.
There may be a point where Greenpeace’s response to their own atrocity is sufficient. But I’m 99% sure Greenpeace will never be able to pull off that response.
Some related links:
<li><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/10/peru-press-charges-greenpeace-nazca-lines-stunt">Greenpeace apologises to people of Peru over Nazca lines stunt</a></li>
<li><a href="http://www.vancouverobserver.com/opinion/greenpeaces-publicity-stunt-ruins-un-climate-convention-peru">By wrecking an iconic archeological site, Greenpeace ruined the UN climate convention for Peru</a></li>
<li><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/13/world/americas/peru-is-indignant-after-greenpeace-makes-its-mark-on-ancient-site.html?_r=3">Peru Is Indignant After Greenpeace Makes Its Mark on Ancient Site</a></li>