Greenpeace, the organized environmental conscience, actively serving national business competitiveness Ruthless Criticism

Translated of an article by Wolfgang Möhl (co-editor of GegenStandpunkt) from the German leftwing magazine Konkret (October 1995)

“Solutions exist”

Greenpeace, the organized environmental conscience, active in the service of national business competitiveness

The “Greenpeace environmental organization” puts the two most irrefutably honorific titles of political responsibility on its company sign. Through its actions, it wants to draw attention to the fact that, unfortunately, business and politics are not consistently in line with the spirit of these two titles, and presses for remediation. It takes action as an advocate for a task that it assumes is universally recognized: the job of politicians to look after the preservation of the environment and peace. It sees itself as the public environmental conscience of a political world that has in fact long known what is really important, in which merely the program and practical politics still diverge: clean waters, species protection, a world free of nuclear weapons, and clean air – in its eyes, these are the highest and most honorable goals of democratic government. The doings of the people in charge are measured by this – and found inadequate. Greenpeace wants to change this by helping out the dawdlers who carry out environmental policies, even if they don't want to be helped at all. A cause that is as acknowledged as it is misguided.

Exposing sins, naming problems, offering solutions

Greenpeace is constantly pointing out violations all over the place. From the slaughter of seals to military nuclear tests, from whaling to the disposal of toxic chemicals – this critical association always sees the number one commandment violated: Thou shalt protect the environment! Why basic ecological problems are given so little attention by the powerful and those with economic responsibilities, when they are generally recognized; why the environment doesn’t ever get healthier, nuclear weapons aren’t disappearing and the pollution caused by chemicals isn’t getting any rarer, but at most more sophisticated, if nevertheless the whole world is aiming at the opposite – that’s not a question for the watchdogs of the environment. Their system of investigating and prosecuting has an amazingly simple answer: It is due to an unfortunately quite widespread lack of responsibility – because of egoistic short-term interests, because of wrong calculations, because of ignorance or unwillingness or simply indifference, corporations and politicians fail to act in the correct environmentally conscious way. That the oceans are ruthlessly fished empty, for example, can be traced back to the “greed of the industrial countries for fish fodder.” It’s that simple and tautological. No trace of a necessity. No notion that it could be due to the legitimate interests of an economy geared at increasing money.

The environmental investigators do not want to know anything about the objective constraints of a competition over cost price and profit, which includes regularly being ruthlessness about natural conditions as well as health and consumption needs. Nor do they want to know anything about the fact that the state makes itself the guarantor of these objective constraints of national wealth production with its violence and only cares about the ruinous consequences of the unleashed capitalist economic activity when these are affected. The fact that the relevant laws and prohibitions owe their existence to the interest in maintaining usable business conditions and a usable state inventory, and that they are restrained accordingly; that the “environment” and its protection are not at all the highest principle of political responsibility: all this lies outside the visual scope of the Greenpeace people.

They are not at all concerned with explanations; they think ahead and don’t care about the reasons for the behavior they want to see corrected. Just as the police and the judiciary act in the name of the applicable laws, track down offenses, punish crimes, and represent the professionally blinkered worldview that society is unfortunately made up of nothing but lawbreakers, Greenpeace acts as a supervisory authority over an ideal canon of environmental obligations that are constantly being violated. As an authority for detecting and prosecuting environmental issues, the organization constantly arrests the relevant sinners, denounces particularly blatant cases and demands energetic interventions. Because, as the environmental watchdogs are sure, without the salutary coercion of public authority, without state supervision and regulation, it won’t go well, but always does with it. Politicians are therefore called upon to act in order to punish and put an end to the violations that have been identified and to enforce ecological reason.

The addressees of this environmental association are not the citizens. The fact that the victims – who notice that their food is being ruined due to the “growth” promoting use of nature – raise justified objections and campaign to stop those who are responsible is not something that occurs to the environmental investigators anyway. Rather, they want to educate the citizens to behave in an “environmentally friendly” manner, to not throw away paper, waste less energy, and whatever other impositions are necessary to make up for things that the consumer has neither caused nor can correct with his own efforts. But they do not want to leave it up to personal responsibility either. No, they deal with the power of the economic bosses and, above all, the political power of those in government. They do not want to challenge their responsibility; on the contrary, they want to shake them up and persuade them to control the environmental sinners – including, of course, the citizens who have been spoiled by consumption – within the necessary limits.

In this way, a policy that asserts itself everywhere as the advocate of national wealth accumulation and global political enforcement, that is, the ideal total capitalist who opens up a cost-effective use of land and people for its capitalists and oversees the consequences in an economically compatible way, is trustingly placed in the role of a supreme authority for environmentally friendly production and consumption.

The Greenpeace-ers, who themselves are organized like an authority, assign themselves the role of constantly drawing the attention of those responsible to when state intervention is absolutely necessary and how they should proceed in a sensible manner. According to the motto “There is a lot to do, let’s get on with it!” they offer to help those responsible with words and deeds. They don’t want to “just criticize”; they want to contribute constructively and on a case-by-case basis to environmental policy, even if those in power have something completely different in mind. They are firmly convinced that what should not be, should not have to be, if seen correctly; if only proper action, long-term thinking, and correct calculations would be taken. They don’t see any necessities, but assume without any reason and without any doubt that all the “environmental offenses” they have to deal with are avoidable. That’s why they do not bother with the criteria according to which the actions and calculations are really carried out, but rather give advice on how, in their opinion, the current calculation methods, to which the incriminated environmental offenses are owed, could be improved. They undertake the feat of reconciling environmental considerations with the growth needs of the economy and the wealth claims of the nation, i.e. design and offer ways and possibilities of a successful “environmental management,” i.e. one that is rewarding for society as a whole.

In the role of an informed advisory body, the association maintains its “experts” who “must be eloquent enough to negotiate with politicians and industry at the same time, able to prepare specialist scientific backgrounds and possible solutions and make problems understandable to a broad public.” This alternative council of experts points out the costs of environmentally damaging procedures, proposes feasible alternatives – i.e., those that can be financed in keeping with business balance sheets and government budgetary considerations –, looks into cleaner chemical processes that also promote business, replacement deals for whalers, more environmentally friendly refrigerators, and so on. Opponents of nuclear testing even rack their brains over war plans and distinguish between well-founded security needs and irresponsible nuclear ambitions which can ultimately only harm those who initiate them. So they do not dispute a single valid interest, but try to prove again and again with statistics, economic and business model calculations and technological designs that all these interests are in line with the requirements of environmental protection, and – viewed correctly – would indeed be much better served, i.e. “feasible.”

They would love to solve all the “global problems” through “expertise and the art of persuasion” in consultation with those who caused them and give them “concepts that show ways out of the dilemma,” if only they would let them: “Our approach is to present solutions and, if the dialog doesn’t work, to confront them. The solutions already exist. Now we have to put pressure on them to put them into action.” In this sense, Greenpeace’s perspective is that the 1990s should not be years of confrontation, but of “solutions.” In this sense, they celebrate some minor or major triumphs when multinationals promise to profit from “environmentally friendly” processes and products – after all, saving energy or material costs is just as much a part of the economy of capital as new goods that can be sold at a profit – or when the state changes its regulations and requirements: “Success after 15 years of campaign work. Waste export ban worldwide.” They like to attribute this to their tireless work.

The environmental policy advisors press for a hearing

Of course, the environmentalists also notice that the people in power have little sympathy for the idealistic mission of putting all their policies under guidelines such as clean air, spared whales, non-toxic water, etc. The discrepancy between their good intentions and the valid interests by no means however hurls them into doubt whether they might have landed up at the wrong address when the people in power, who have their own version of valid economic and environmental policy rationales, want to know so little about their offers,. On the contrary! They interpret the fact that they are not met with the corresponding requited love to mean that the politicians are unfortunately all too often fail to do the good deeds that they attribute to them: First, with their need for international power, they themselves commit serious environmental sins – the development and expansion of nuclear power, especially testing it, is for environmental fanatics as much a violation of ecological reason as the extinction of an endangered species; second, the politicians, with their feeble conditions and generous permissions for a nationally profitable economy, neglect the supervisory duty assigned to them by Greenpeace.

So – in Greenpeace logic – they have to be constantly and emphatically prodded. The less the people in power want to hear the well-meaning advice of the agents of environmental expertise, the more it relies on repeatedly making itself heard loudly in the media. They consider the media to be the right institution to remind politicians about the responsibility they are supposedly always shirking. Indeed, they share the widespread good faith that the democratic masters of the national destiny would be impressed in the long term by the concerns and worries of a critical media, and they confuse the cyclical tossing back and forth of all sorts of national success considerations and political decency issues in the media with a check on the ruling figures. As part of this public sphere, which sees itself as a watchdog on the politicians in the name of the people and shared values, they therefore incessantly speak out. They constantly denounce the relevant deeds and misdeeds of industry and politics as scandals, that is, as offenses against the standards of proper governance shared by the public. Such “scandals” are dragged “into the light of day” as if it were a secret what is going on in nuclear power plants, chemical plants, and elsewhere.

At the same time, it can’t be overlooked that the loudly expressed indignation is aimed at getting a seat on the advisory boards of the same people they allegedly can’t keep quiet about. All their provocations are accompanied not by declarations of hostility, but by expert offers of peace and advice to those in power, i.e., they are aimed at obtaining the diligent recognition of those against whom one is supposedly so resolutely opposed: The bitter accusations against global crimes end smoothly with the earth-shattering message that, according to their own calculations, the already planned three-liter car could be ready for sale much faster if the auto industry and politicians would only make an effort... The staged rule breakings are therefore not declarations of war, but demonstrations of a concern that does not want to intervene, but wants to be involved in the considerations of those in charge: We’ll tell you a better way to do it.

The battle for attention

This is how indignation becomes a slickly staged pose that immediately revokes itself: Greenpeace-ers loudly shout “Scandal!,” listen contentedly for how many echoes come back, push their expert advice afterwards – and that’s about it. Off to the next action. The impression that the alternative environmental experts want to make on a public that is not easily impressed inspires them to carry out loud media-effective “actions.” Agitating with arguments explaining the imperative of their cause is not their thing. They convince in a different way; they certify their cause by their tireless and undaunted personal commitment. Anything not suitable for showing scandalous irresponsibility is unworthy of their demonstrative objection. In order to publicize scandals and to express the seriousness of their concerns, they defy the politically set barriers to permissible expression of opinion and stage one spectacle of symbolic resistance after another for the public. With daring maneuvers and deliberate violations of the law, they wage a show-battle against the environmental sinners in the executive suites and political decision-making centers, thus creating the appearance of a showdown with the culprits.

The cat-and-mouse game of the Davids vs. the Goliaths calculates no other effect than the image they project and the attention they receive on television. The public is supposed to be impressed by the proof provided by the activists: that although powerless they set limits on the powerful and do not flinch in the interest of a good cause. It’s a great success if they manage once again to not be silenced, if they not only morally expose the other side, but also publicly ridicule it as a power and lead it around by the nose; if they succeed in getting onto a factory site, climbing a chimney and unfurling a banner; if they unroll their banner for 30 seconds in the middle of Beijing; if they are able to get past the French navy for a while into the restricted area around Mururoa and have to be cleared away at great expense. They count on those in power, who are accused of recklessness toward people and the environment, of showing due consideration for the public that has been mobilized in advance.

The campaigns for pure attention are worth every effort for Greenpeace: A staff of “campaigners” and “activists” stage spectacles like a general staff, using a lot of technical equipment and logistics and sometimes acting like a real small army that can give the French navy an honest fight. It is not an amateurish protest association, but a well-organized, hard-working public relations organization which is capable of staging the appropriate objection professionally and knows how to convince with good will as well as technical efforts. Greenpeace activists are tirelessly on the move around the world, always with media representatives in tow.

They show them some respect. With their campaigns, the environmental activists serve and inspire a public that also likes to discover failures and misconduct and calls for decisive intervention by politicians. That is why it does not deny a certain amount of recognition to concerns such as the actions of the environmental representatives: Yes, they point out particularly blatant cases of failures of responsibility; but their actions and their one-sided point of view are not unproblematic! Indeed, the public policy watchdogs are aware of competing points of view of proper governance, which they weigh against each other: After all, everyone knows by now that ecology and the economy must be reconciled; and critical objections should not undermine confidence in those in power, nor embarrass those in positions of national responsibility, but rather respectfully call for energetic action. In this respect, a certain restraint is also called for with regard to the “radicalism” of the Greenpeace-ers. They are therefore regarded by the national media as honorable troublemakers who often overshoot the mark.

The environmental international and its successes

The verdict on Greenpeace’s international efforts is somewhat different. The environmental watchdogs see and present themselves as a supranational authority on matters of environment and peace, one which keeps a watchful eye on the activities of all multinationals and all nations and, when the opportunity arises, announces the need for global action in matters of species protection, stopping nuclear weapons tests, protecting the oceans, and so on. In doing so, the Greenpeace public relations workers refer to the international conferences, agreements, and treaties by which the states take care of the relevant matters across national borders – and quite controversially at that. What is negotiated at the international environmental conferences and, even more so, what the states consider necessary and operate as energy or power programs in nuclear energy, are not matters of peaceful world community agreements, but questions of national power, i.e. matters of dispute between nations.

Depending on whether their national means of competition are affected, whether agreements restrict a national industry or not, depending on whether a country suffers particularly from certain harmful effects or derives special economic advantages from them; depending on whether or not it has a national nuclear industry or even nuclear weapons, opinions differ on the effects that world market competition and the striving for world power have beyond national borders. The gains and damages to a national economy and government decide what a nation considers necessary in terms of environmental regulations and restrictions. International environmental policy is pursued as part of national location policies with which states strive to create favorable competitive conditions in the interest of their capital location and the capitals domiciled there. If possible, concessions are imposed on other nations as costly conditions, while one’s own capital location is spared similar restrictions and costs.

The Greenpeace organization supports the relevant international regulations and agreements with ongoing global-public petitions that the responsible parties should encourage each other to act more responsibly. They provide these diplomatic proceedings with the appearance of a global community of governments that is engaged here, which makes it their common concern to handle the damage that economic competition brings with it and commits them all more or less consistently to global environmental considerations. The “environmental representatives from thirty countries” want to help this imaginary global community of statesmen; in their name they accuse some nations of environmental sins and call on others to take remedial action – and in this crazy and uncritical way they meddle in the competitive bargaining of the nations that call the shots on the world market and in world politics.

This, however, is how they find resonance in the respective public sphere. It indeed supports – as an outright mouthpiece of national concerns – radical action when no “growth and jobs” – i.e., no economic – interests worthy of protection are affected in its own country; quite in contrast to cases in which Greenpeace actions are aimed against domestic political practices. In such cases, a “one-sided” environmental point of view is unjustified under any circumstances. Where ever there is no national point of view standing in the way, one constantly discovers environmental sins – by the foreign multinationals and the other nations which promote them; here, national safety regulations in the matter of nuclear power plants are regarded as having eliminated all risks and as a model that the others should strictly follow – with our help, of course. And even more so, where ever national power is at stake, critical assessors from non-nuclear armed states are only too happy to discover the ruthlessness of the exclusive club of nuclear powers and plead for bans on nuclear tests or processing Russian plutonium in German nuclear plants – all in the name of preserving the environment and peace, of course.

The environmental and peace association is currently also particularly popular with the relevant political authorities. While its high-profile activities are mostly counted as disturbances of national location maintenance and treated accordingly, externally it receives verbal or even diplomatic-material encouragement from interested official bodies of the international community. Its members have long since discovered the title of environment as a claim to joint responsibility for the national interests of other states and global governance. That is why Greenpeace is sometimes used as an appellate authority that is not subject to any suspicion of national egoism; at other times, however, Greenpeace is suspected of merely promoting national interests – namely, those of other states that have no right to interfere; depending on whether a nation sees itself as the target of global publicity actions by the environmental organization, or depending on whether another nation wants to use these actions as a title of objection.

With the completely inappropriate permanent request for global environmental management, Greenpeace touches power affairs of the highest order – and does not even want to notice that the title “environment” has now become a claim title of an imperialistic nature; that whole regions of the world are counted among “our worldwide resources” and the responsible poorhouses are urged to show considerations which one is not prepared to exercise in one’s own location; that it name is used to claim European co-determination in French nuclear weapons and Japanese responsibility for the Pacific and, what’s more, these claims are constantly announced in the name of worldwide responsibility.

But that doesn’t bother the “rainbow warriors” at all. When they suddenly find themselves in a coalition with politicians and businessmen who they have denounced on other occasions as environmental sinners, when Kohl and German motorists, New Zealand government representatives, Australian trade unionists and German social democrats publicly back them, they are satisfied and celebrate this as a success: this is what they want to achieve with their campaigns – the salutary pressure exerted by the global community on those powers opposing the respective reasonable solutions; this proves that constructive efforts pay off, informed engagement is worthwhile. Indeed, international environmental peace activists give a lot of credit to the artifice of turning the conflicting viewpoints of nations and their national resentments into leverage for a comprehensive oversight of all states, i.e., instrumentalizing the competition of states for their higher environmental concerns.

As befits an association that reserves itself the role of a restless world supervisory authority, Greenpeace is careful not to appear as merely the fifth column of competing nationalisms – after all, there is also a Greenpeace branch in the country under attack. The country sections, united under an international organizational umbrella, carefully consider all possible national reservations in order to show that they are on the move in the interest of a higher cause that unites them all. In their opinion, nationalism is not to be criticized but to be used, because one wants to use it. But who is actually instrumentalizing whom?