“There comes a time when all that really matters is humanity and solidarity”


Bunny McDiarmid, Executive Director Greenpeace International  © Greenpeace

Bunny McDiarmid is an activist with more than 30 years’ experience leading national and international campaigns.  Her words offers several valuable insights for living a life of true significance. She has a lot to teach us. Her life as an environmental activist began in earnest with her joining the crew of the anti-nuclear protest ship The Fri in the early 1980s. She later crewed on the Rainbow Warrior – bombed by the French  secret service in Auckland in July 1985. Her love for the Pacific motivated Bunny to help establish the Greenpeace Pacific campaign in 1987, leading regional teams on nuclear, oceans, forests and climate campaigns. She returned to Greenpeace in 2000, working in a variety of campaign leadership roles including the international nuclear campaign and the international deep-sea bottom trawling campaign, before taking the job of Executive Director in Greenpeace NZ/Aotearoa in 2006. She remained in this post until October 2015. Bunny McDiarmid, together with Jennifer Morgan, became Executive Director of Greenpeace International on 2016. The organization works for a renewable, clean energy revolution away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, to sustain our oceans, seafood and whales, eliminate toxic chemicals, to protect our ancient forests, mitigate climate change and expose environmental criminals and promote sustainable agriculture.

  • Last year you carried out joint operations with Médecins Sans Frontiéres, assisting 18,000 refugees in the Aegean Sea. Tell us what this operation meant to you.

 

It simply meant doing the right thing! It meant deciding that we could not to stand by and do nothing. There comes a time when all that really matters is humanity and solidarity. This was such a time. There were so many people in a desperate situation who needed help and we had people, equipment and logistical knowledge to help.
We are not a humanitarian organisation in the traditional sense and we do not offer assistance in all of the places in the world where it is needed like MsF does. This was happening on the doorstep of where we have many offices, people and resources and the scale of it was overwhelming the authorities. So supporting MsF’s humanitarian work and using our marine expertise and resources to respond to a human security crisis felt like absolutely the right and compassionate response.
Of course it could be argued that this is not strictly an environmental issue. Some of its roots however clearly stem from environmental impacts and have been linked to climate change. The root causes of global insecurity, environmental crisis and resource conflicts are complex and connected. We need to insist on finding real solutions of addressing root causes and not just the symptoms. That includes getting off fossil fuels and tackling climate change, of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius and averting the worst impacts that would otherwise create an overwhelming number of climate refugees.
The help Greenpeace was able to provide to MsF and the refugees and the heart-wrenching stories of suffering and survival redouble my belief that we must urgently deploy the clean energy solutions we have today, in order to avoid a future where such mass movements of desperate people become the norm.
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 MSF and Greenpeace conducting a joint operation in the Aegean Sea, 2015 © Greenpeace

“There comes a time when all that really matters is humanity and solidarity.”

“The only way to effectively counter fear is with hope; to counter apathy is with action. We must all get involved and be part of the solution.”

  • How can we effectively fight the total institutional failure of governments against the dramatic situation that refugees are still experiencing?

 

We must not accept our governments failing to provide security and support to refugees, in accordance with international law. Fleeing conflict, poverty and human rights abuses in the hope of a better life, is not a crime. So we need our governments to wake up and deliver basic decency. As citizens we must hold them accountable. We must continue to do what we can as individuals and organizations to help, but above all we must keep up the pressure on governments to secure safe passage and legal avenues to enter safe countries. I salute the people who are standing up for human decency. The many – including many Greenpeace volunteers – who help refugees settle in their new communities, and all who are calling for more human policies. I was truly inspired by the recent mass demonstrations in Spain calling for refugees to be supported.
The only way to effectively counter fear is with hope; to counter apathy is with action. We must all get involved and be part of the solution.

"We must not accept our governments failing to provide
security and support to refugees,
in accordance with international law.
Fleeing conflict, poverty and human rights abuses in the hope of a better life, is not a crime."

Safe Passage Demonstration on Lesbos

In solidarity with the rights of refugees, protestors called for ‘No more deaths’ during a demonstration on a beach in Molyvos, Lesbos, 2016 © Greenpeace

“We must continue to do what we can as individuals and organizations to help, but above all we must keep up the pressure on governments to secure safe passage and legal avenues to enter safe countries.”

  • What measures are you going to take against the policy that Donald Trump will develop in environmental and human rights?

 

We are working with many others to ensure that the huge gains made in the past to protect our clean air, our safe water, our pristine land and our inalienable rights are not rolled back by an Administration that is only interested in looking after the interests of polluters, speculators and those in the coal and oil business. We are also working with many innovative and forward looking businesses, as well as all governments and people who know that the future will be powered by clean, green, renewable energy and that their economic benefits are already well established and will continue to pull all of the smart money generating future profit, improving our ecology and enhancing equity.

Greenpeace hanged giant ‘Resist’ banner next to White House Getty January 2017 © Greenpeace

“We are working with many others to ensure that the huge gains made in the past to protect our clean air, our safe water, our pristine land and our inalienable rights are not rolled back by an Administration that is only interested in looking after the interests of polluters, speculators and those in the coal and oil business.”

  • What are the most outstanding achievements and setbacks of your organisation in your 45 years of history?  

 

Our founders set out to change the way humans and the environment interact. We have a come a long way in that regard.
Along with many others, we have forced governments to start taking action on climate change, as symbolized by the Paris Climate Agreement. We have created a growing awareness that protecting all of the rich diversity in the world is essential to our own survival. We have added greatly to the understanding between humanitarian crises and environmental degradation and destruction.
More directly we have ended some truly abominable practices such as nuclear waste dumping at sea; nuclear weapons testing in the environment (of course with the exception of North Korea’s underground tests); We have managed to mobilize millions of people and via such people power have made first steps to save the arctic from oil drilling by companies like Shell. We have made significant progress, such as getting the United Nations to agree a UN moratorium on driftnet fishing.

Greenpeace activists flew a hot air balloon next to the Eiffel Tower ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference © Reuters/Benoit Tessier

Activists protest the Shell Oil Company’s drilling rig Polar Pioneer, Washington 2015 © Jason Redmond/Reuters

We have done all of this through peaceful means, through creative confrontation. We have also done it by remaining independent of governments and corporations from which we take no money.

“We have forced governments to start taking action on climate change, as symbolized by the Paris Climate Agreement. We have created a growing awareness that protecting all of the rich diversity in the world is essential to our own survival. We have added greatly to the understanding between humanitarian crises and environmental degradation and destruction. We have done all of this through peaceful means, through creative confrontation."

Personally, what I am most proud of is that we now have agreement inside Greenpeace around the world that we need to work for system change rather than incremental change, if we are to make a real difference to the survival of a healthy planet where people can thrive. We agree that we have to address the root causes of environmental and security problems rather than just the symptoms.

The Rainbow Warrior the Greenpeace ship in Auckland harbour after French agents blew it up in 1985 © Reuters

We have had many setbacks as well, of course. Our ship was bombed in 1985 by the French Secret Service, murdering photographer Fernando Pereira. We had to watch as the French state made us out to be “dangerous enemies of the state” and forced a non-violent activist organisation to temporarily close our French office. But these setbacks only served to make us stronger. Greenpeace France is now thriving, it is one of our most successful offices and it is doing great work to protect the environment. We have always bounced back, we are stronger and more global now than ever before.
But, the real setback for me is that we are still nowhere near getting business and government to protect the climate and halt biodiversity loss as fast as science tells us is needed. That´s the setback we cannot afford to let stand.
Greenpeace was built to be expendable. Our greatest day will be the day we shut our doors. The day we achieve the objective in our name: a green and peaceful future.

“But, the real setback for me is that we are still nowhere near getting business and government to protect the climate and halt biodiversity loss as fast as science tells us is needed. That´s the setback we cannot afford to let stand.”

  • What is your main environmental battle to date?  

 

Climate change and the recognition across governments, business and people that our own survival is intimately linked to the health of the planet’s life support systems and our decisions on how we live and make our living need to be based on this. Many of the things we need to do to prevent runaway climate change, like shifting to renewable energy sources, ending deforestation, adopting smart transport systems, embracing ecological farming will also make the world cleaner, fairer and more sustainable. So it is both our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity.

"Greenpeace was built to be expendable. Our greatest day will be the day we shut our doors. The day we achieve the objective in our name: a green and peaceful future. "

  • Should the economy be connected to ecology?  

 

Yes – that seems obvious but the story that we are told and have been sold, in so called modern societies, is that we can have an economy based on endless growth despite living on a small planet which has finite natural resources.
We depend on the natural world to survive, we depend on a climate that maintains temperatures at a level that we and other life can grow and thrive; we depend on clear air and water and land that is not poisoned or depleted to grow food. But the course of modern development has seen us drive many species to extinction and many others to the edge of this including one of the most important food sources for millions, fish. There is no economy if we destroy our natural world. As our friends at the International Trades Union Congress say “there are no jobs on a dead planet.”

"We depend on the natural world to survive, we depend on a climate that maintains temperatures at a level that we and other life can grow and thrive; we depend on clear air and water and land that is not poisoned or depleted to grow food. There is no economy if we destroy our natural world."

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© Greenpeace

The values that govern our economy are myopic and more often than not focused only on the bottom, profit line. They most often externalise any costs to the environment.
The biodiversity loss — or the capacity to store carbon or produce oxygen and water when a rainforest is logged to make toilet paper — is often not factored in. The cost of crossing environmental boundaries whether it be the climate or freshwater or ocean acidification are often not part of the equation when it comes to determining profit. We have to change this. Fast.
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  • What message would you send to society?

 

Wake up, stand up for and look after what you have and care for – this is a turbulent time we live in. Don’t give up! Join in. Take part. The best aspects of our common humanity and our creative ingenuity are what will ensure we continue to create a safer, more just and healthy world for all. But we need everyone to find the courage and hope to make it happen.

"Wake up, stand up for and look after what you have and care for – this is a turbulent time we live in. Don’t give up! Join in. Take part."

Bunny McDiarmid
Executive Director Greenpeace International
greenpeace.org

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