As 30-odd Greenpeace activists enjoy the hospitality of a Murmansk jail facing charges of piracy, one of the organization’s founders, Patrick Moore is picketing Greenpeace’s Toronto headquarters, accusing the environmental group of ‘crimes against humanity’ over its opposition to genetically modified rice. There is a strange irony that Greenpeace, which has always relied on over-the-top stunts and exaggerated rhetoric to score points, now finds itself accused of piracy by the Russians and genocide by Moore. It remains to be seen whether Russia will follow through to the end with the piracy charges, which carry penalties of up to 15 years in jail but if the fate of the punk-rock group Pussy Riot is any indication, the Russians don’t fool around with protesters. Piracy is clearly too strong a word to describe what the activists did. Yes, like pirates the surrounded and boarded a Russian oil rig using high-speed rubber dinghies, but unlike pirates they carried no weapons.
Still, they were illegal trespassers who intruded and disrupted a legal commercial venture. Did they really think that their antics would be greeted with the kind of indulgence they get when they stage protests in western democracies? The incident raises the question once again about the extent to which civil disobedience should be tolerated. Without civil disobedience we would not have had the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s nor would women have received the vote when they did; but those issues seem so much more clear cut on a fundamental moral basis than many of Greenpeace’s causes. It often seems like Greenpeace, which started out as an anti-nuclear organization, now consists of a bunch of activists scouring the earth for causes, many supported by dubious science— as if the goal has morphed from trying to change the world to one of perpetuating attention-getting stunts. The hippie movement was supposedly launched in a wave of peace and love—a questionable theory in retrospect. Now forty years later it is interesting to see how downright nasty some of these people have become.