In 1985 the Greenpeace ship ‘Rainbow Warrior’, lay in harbour in New Zealand, making ready to protest against French nuclear testing in the Pacific. Her fate was sealed in Paris and she was sunk by French secret service agents. Unfortunately one man was killed. Portuguese-Dutch photographer, Fernando Pereira, was one of the crew members to go back on board to investigate after the first limpet bomb was detonated. He was still there when the second bomb exploded, and in the deluge of incoming water he was drowned. No one else was killed in this government-sponsored act of terrorism.
A worldwide scandal ensued, implicating the high echelons of the French government and forcing the defence minister to resign. Years later it was proven that the hands of President Mitterrand himself were stained with the blood of the murdered man. For the first time eco-politics wasn’t just hippies in sandals and new age stoners in VW camper vans; now there was a visible war, and being an eco-warrior could not be mocked because it was obvious to all that being a protector of our planet was not a joke, but was dangerous to the point of being fatal.
Once upon a time the conservative majority could look on eco-warriors as young men and women with no direction, cast-offs from the loony left looking for excuses not to get jobs and not to wash their hair. They were remnants from the hippy movement, only they had been born too late. They had missed out on National Service, and had no sense of discipline. They would not be content until they had saved every useless plot of wasteland, dead tree, and pointless sea creature in the ocean. Always in the way of progress, and challenging the thrust of capitalism. Useless outcasts from society, self-ostracised and wantonly banished, they were people who would amount to nothing, and who would contribute nothing to the country’s prosperity.
Of course, there may be no truth in any of that, but that was the shadow that followed those souls that cared enough to do something about the continuing destruction of our planet and the creatures we share it with. And they were not without support. Armchair eco-supporters at odds with the near extinction of so many species, with the burning of rain forests to make way for plantations, and of the CFC aerosol usage that had created a hole in the ozone layer causing the icecaps to start melting, began to write letters and articles, and flirted at the edges of protest movements. So many habitats had been destroyed and so many species had already been lost, and probably many that had not yet even been discovered. The tide was beginning to turn, and green tinted glasses now sat shakily on so many noses that the eco-warrier could no longer be ignored. They had managed their first sociological victory; they had been seen, heard, and taken notice of.
Roll on the Nineties with dreadlocked hunt saboteurs running around the fields with whistles and scent rags, standing up to shotgun-wielding farmers and horse riding fox hunters in their liveries of blood and bone. Swampy sat up in the trees, daring bulldozers and wrecking machinery to come forward and knock him down so that the Newbury bypass could be laid where woodland reigned. He lost the fight. The tree dwellers were brought to heel, but not until the entire nation had witnessed their battle against the destroyers of the greenbelt. The territory may have been lost to tarmac, but the unwashed in their oddly shaped knitwear calling for a green revolution had become the heroes of a new age. The eco-warrior was popular culture now. The eco-warrior was a creature to be squinted at but admired. The eco-warrior was someone to stand with and have your photo taken with if you were in the market for raising the profile of your green credentials. ‘Spider’ was on the telly in Coronation Street, bringing a friendly, cuddly persona to the idea of a soldier fighting for nature’s survival. And we the public, driving our dirty cars to the shop at the end of the road to save our legs the trouble, leaving our televisions on standby at night so we wouldn’t have to get out of bed to turn on GMTV in the morning, using chemical products by the gallon and throwing them down the drains only to poison our rivers and our seas; we lapped it up.
We still laughed at them, but we found we were starting to agree with their protests. Many started to hear the little green eco-warrior in each of them, calling them to arms. ‘Recycle’ was the new byword, and we no longer bragged of our personal squandering of the earth’s resources.
What has happened? What has caused this new sense of environmental responsibility?
Technology happened. The modern turn towards accessible media happened. The Swampys of the world now have Blackberrys and smart phones so they can video the injustices, and then they can send the evidence and their interpretation of it whizzing around the world to all manner of outlets in mere seconds. We can all be seen and heard, and we can all publicise those infractions that the powers at be would rather went unseen until it is too late to protest against it; too late to chain yourself to the tree, or sit down in the way of the JCBs.
The rise of personal technology within our media savvy age has created what could very easily have become a divide of chasm-like proportions. Where does the grass-roots-direct-action environmentalist stand when everyone is now taking notice of the slick, suited and booted, lobbyist with their close contact with the media, their finger on the pulse of technology, and their snug little meetings with government officials attempting to secure clandestine handshakes on green issues? There are those who are not entirely comfortable with the new approach; there are still many of the old guard who feel that shouting and marching and sitting and direct action will always be the best way to get seen and heard and to make a difference. But with the global coverage provided by the internet and a culture of mass communication via mobile phone networks and satellites, it would be a waste to ignore this way of convincing so many strangers that it is possible for people to change the world without chaining themselves to a tree. Luckily it seems that rather than factions splitting apart into separate camps and fighting amongst themselves while we watch the world die, the two work well side-by-side without too much animosity. For once the cause is bigger than the methods used to bring awareness and realisation of the plight. There seems to be an acceptance that the different styles must co-exist to create a whole which is greater, stronger, louder, more capable, than the sum of its parts. And while a very smooth supplicant whispers sweet nothings into the ears of MPs about rising levels of carbon emissions and the kinds of investment needed to even start to offset the damage, there are men and women, young and old, students, teachers, parents, office workers and road sweepers, barricading the entrance to Heathrow airport, waving their placards, and being a very noisy, physical obstacle to the creation of a third runway. It is campaign harmony. The soldiers march through the mud into battle, while the diplomats grease the wheels that lead to the enemy’s surrender.
So many of us now are aware of what the dangers of our dominance on this planet are to everything else around us, that we are attempting in our own small ways to help reduce the damage we cause. Be it recycling, turning off lights when we don’t need them to be on, replacing filament light bulbs with energy saving bulbs, or walking those journeys that don’t really require the use of a car. Public transport in the form of buses, trains and trams all cut the amount of carbon dioxide pumped out, as does the limiting of fossil fuel-produced electricity in favour of wind and hydro generation. Planting trees creates mini oxygen factories, while refusing to buy products containing palm oil lessens the need to burn down vast swathes of the rain forests that are home to our critically endangered cousin the orang-utan. These small and not so small steps towards a more environmentally conscious way of living are triumphs in a movement brought about by those that were once mocked and derided, while our habitat has been victim to our greed-lust; our unending quest to amass financial gain for its own sake.
Jersey is a small island. Miniscule in relation to so many other land masses. Should that mean that our responsibility to the world’s natural health is miniscule also? Our island may not have the power to persuade the rest of the world to cease vomiting so much CO2 and stop the greenhouse effect and subsequent global warming in its tracks, but we can have a beneficial impact on our own localised environment. We can use recycled products in the bathroom, use only the electricity we need, fill our cavity walls with heat retaining insulation, and install solar panels on our roofs. As an island we can lobby the States to increase its commitment to recycling, protect our waters from overfishing, and buy more locally grown food to lessen the need for import. Our own gardens and courtyards and allotments can be havens for insects and birds and small mammals, and we can grow some of our own food, going a little way to lessen the need for so much to be shipped or flown in. We can suggest strongly, very strongly, with our ballot papers that our government take issues of environment and ecology as seriously as it does the economy and wealth. The UK, industrialised and with great polluted cities and towns, elected its first Green Party member of parliament in last month’s general election, so what is to stop Jersey, our rural and uncongested island home, becoming a forerunner in the environmentalist movement? We can, if we choose to be, the first country to put the environment and real quality of life for our children before the country’s GDP.
Because they had predicted what was coming; because they cared about the impact we have on our surroundings; because they made us think seriously about our place on the earth and what we leave to future generations when we have departed; the eco-warrior must be applauded. They may be our only hope against our own destruction, so perhaps it’s time we all listened to them with more than just a casual ear in their direction. They are role models for the twenty-first century. The eco-warriors, in all their guises, may just turn out to be our super heroes.