Whither the Eco-Warrior?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, November 1997

Whither the Eco-Warrior?

Amid financial crisis and disturbing allegations, Greenpeace USA heads in a familiar new direction
By Florence Williams

Girls Will Be Boys

When you're the top-ranked female surfer in the world, good competition can be hard to find. Just ask three-time Association of Surfing Professionals world champion Lisa Andersen, who attempted to liven up yet another dullsville winning summer by becoming the first woman ever to enter the male draw of a major professional contest. "Competing against the men puts the spark back in my surfing," she says of her decision to join the male ranks at two Huntington Beach events last August, "and anything I can do to make myself a better athlete is fair game." Despite her mixed results — she advanced to the sixth round of the Katin Team Challenge but was eliminated in the first round of the U.S. Open of Surfing — the 28-year-old Andersen says she may continue to square off against the men in the future, though not before she defends her ASP championship at the Quiksilver Roxy Pro on the 24th of this month in Hawaii. Meanwhile, at least some of her newfound rivals are feeling the heat. "Oh, man," laments C. J. Hobgood, an 18-year-old rising star outdone by Andersen in the fifth round of the Katin. "You wouldn't believe how much grief I caught for losing to her."

The Sweet Smell of Success?

After 12 years of enduring cruel faculty jokes, repeated ejections from campus buildings, and weekly bleach baths, mammalogist Jerry Dragoo has finally realized his life's goal: the reclassification of skunks. "Luckily for me, I have virtually no sense of smell," admits the University of New Mexico researcher, who announced last summer that the malodorous animals have a different DNA sequence than badgers, otters, and other members of the North American weasel family Mustelidae and therefore deserve a classification all their own: Mephitidae. Alas, the discovery has plunged the usually collegial world of skunk research into turmoil. Chris Wozencraft, a mammalogist at Idaho's Lewis-Clark State College, questions Dragoo's inclusion of Oriental stink badgers, the only non-North American species in the family. "Geographically, they just don't fit," he says. "This confuses everything." But unless someone produces data to refute the controversial classification, Dragoo this month will retrain his sights on an enticing new project: DNA analysis of mountain lion feces.

All This, Plus Titlists with a Longer Half-Life

"We put up 20 bluebird boxes, and there's a gal who comes out regularly to survey the eggs," says Derf Soller, superintendent of the $20 million, Jack Nicklaus-designed Old Works Golf Course in Anaconda, Montana, which was recently built on the grounds of a now-defunct copper smelter and one of the country's largest and most reviled Superfund sites. Preening in the glow of rave reviews from golfers and EPA officials, Old Works is now moving into phase two of its radical facelift. This month, as the course's off-season begins, Soller's crew will redouble its efforts to plant shrubs, monitor water quality, and create "native areas" in the hope that Audubon International will award its coveted seal of eco-approval, "Fully-Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary." As you might imagine, the honor — bestowed upon only 100 of the nation's 15,000 golf courses — holds quite a bit of appeal to the adminis-trators of a course whose bunkers are made of inert smelting waste. "Heck, we've got herons in the water and deer eating the apples," says Soller, perhaps still rehearsing his pitch to Audubon. "You didn't see that here before." True enough, but alas, the folks who hand out the accolades say courses are judged on the end result, not the effort it took to get there. "They didn't make the mess, and we're certainly not going to hold it against them," says Audubon spokesman Jeff Nickel. "But they've still got a long road ahead of them."

The Agony and the Agony

"Everybody looked stoked and healthy," recalls Bill Perkins of the scene at the start of Colorado's Leadville Trail 100 run last August, "but I was wondering if I'd make it to mile two." For good reason: A mere seven days earlier, Perkins had been on the very same starting line, poised to begin the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, the initial hurdle in his attempt to become the first person in history to complete — in the same year — the bike race in under nine hours and the trail run in under 25, thus earning two coveted gold belt buckles. "I see a lot of ultra athletes who are bored," explains the 37-year-old hometown favorite, who, hobbled by blackened toenails, blistered feet, and mild delirium, staggered over the finish to complete the trail run with a mere eight minutes to spare. "Personally, I'd rather mix it up and have a life."

It's a Boa! It's a Bulldozer!
It's a Bad Trip!

"There is a lot of mysticism in the jungle. The villagers could have seen anything." So says Peruvian journalist Belen Moran of the reported sighting last August of a 130-foot-long, 13-foot-diameter boa constrictor, alleged to be the largest animal ever witnessed on land. According to five villagers from the tiny outpost of Nuevo Tacna in northeastern Peru, the black behemoth ripped through the jungle during a soccer match, flattening trees and plowing a trench wide enough for an 18-wheeler before disappearing into the muddy Napo River. Peruvian officials insist that the hulking serpent was really a fleet of heavy construction machinery, while a team of government scientists is instead attributing the sighting to ayahuasca, a hallucinogen used in native ceremonies. Locals aren't buying either hypothesis. "The villagers will not leave their houses," Moran says gravely. "They believe there are other boas out there, waiting for them."

If You Bribe Them, They Will Come

Blame it on notoriously lousy weather and mediocre competition, but it's been 17 years since a new record has been set at the annual Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. Hence the decision by race officials last August to pony up a brand-new, $27,000 Audi A4 as the grand prize for a record-breaking win, a move that succeeded in transforming this usually low-key, regional event into a showdown among America's best hill climbers. The grueling 7.6-mile race route — which with its 4,727-foot vertical gain and 18 percent grades has been likened to the Tour de France's storied Alpe d'Huez grind — suited emerging U.S. Postal Service team star Tyler Hamilton just fine. Coming off an impressive debut in the Alps, the 26-year-old New Englander persevered through 25-mile-per-hour head winds, dropping race favorite and former teammate Michael Engleman at the two-mile mark and then shattering the existing record by almost six minutes with a time of 51:56. "Not bad for an hour's work," said Hamilton, as he pocketed the car keys.

Melanie Duchin's most recent campaign for Greenpeace USA didn't come off quite the way she'd hoped. As part of the group's advance crew for a million-dollar campaign against oil drilling off Alaska's northern coast, Duchin had spent about ten days on Egg Island, a barren two-mile-long spit in the Beaufort Sea, keeping her eye on a drilling rig that ARCO was moving into position just outside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Then, in late July, bad news rolled in from the home office in D.C.: Greenpeace USA was closing offices in ten cities, cutting 85 percent of its 400-strong staff, and eliminating its renowned canvass, in which earnest twentysomethings travel door-to-door to sign up new members and spread the green gospel. The group also gutted major campaigns, including Duchin's own toxics job in Seattle. "It was very surreal," she says.

But Duchin was comforted by the fact that she'd have one final hurrah. In mid-August, her crew finally joined activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace USA's 165-foot icebreaker. For four glorious days, they pulled classic Greenpeace stunts, chaining themselves to the rig's platform, blocking the tugboats from transporting it, and hanging banners reading stop oil go solar. "We'd been staring at this drill rig for weeks, and now, finally, we had an opportunity to actively oppose it," she says. Alas, the fun was short-lived. ARCO and the State of Alaska slapped Greenpeace USA with a damages suit, and federal marshals served the flushed activists with a restraining order, putting an anticlimactic end to a campaign nine months in the making. When push came to shove, says Greenpeace USA board chair Joanne Kliejunas, the group was unwilling to face the prospect of having its assets frozen by an unsympathetic judge. ARCO's rig steamed ahead, and few Americans noticed the brief heroics.

The episode illustrates Greenpeace USA's problems of late: an underwhelmed public, financial mismanagement, and internal strife that — despite the group's left-wing orientation — includes veiled accusations of racism. Since its budgetary peak in 1991, Greenpeace USA's revenues have dropped by about 10 percent a year, from a high of more than $60 million to the $20.1 million budgeted for 1997, ending most of the years in between firmly in the red. Even during the Gingrich-inspired boom of 1994 and 1995, when the Sierra Club hit a fund-raising peak and the Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society, and other organizations finally recovered from their early-nineties slumps, Greenpeace USA continued to nosedive. This year, which the group projects it will finish more than $3 million in the hole, it's even struggling to pay its dues to Greenpeace International, the Amsterdam-based mother ship of a 32-nation fleet.

What happened? The simple answer, much embraced by the media in recent months, is that the American public has become bored with Greenpeace's high-profile, in-your-face tactics. Somewhere along the line, people stopped renewing their memberships and new recruits were harder to come by. And because the organization never accepted corporate support and receives minimal foundation money, Greenpeace USA has had no other revenue streams to fall back on. "These unimaginative and redundant direct-action campaigns are a big part of the problem," says Mark Dowie, a former Greenpeace USA board member and author of Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century. "There's a place for confrontation, but it has to be done in new and creative ways, not just hanging yet another banner off yet another oil tank in yet another city."

While some observers both inside and outside the organization have been echoing Dowie's complaints, others — most significantly the powers-that-be at Greenpeace International — maintain that Greenpeace USA hasn't been doing enough direct action, that it has become distracted by its recent focus on small local issues and environmental-justice campaigns. "Given the globalization of corporate activity, direct action is critical," says James Roof, head of Greenpeace International's action and marine division. "We need to remain true to a tactic and a philosophy that's a strong tradition of ours, and no one does it as well as Greenpeace. I've been hearing for ten years that it's a tired strategy. But people questioned Gandhi, too."

Hyperbolic references to pacifist visionaries aside, this pro-shenanigans faction does seem to be regaining control of the organization. One of its first strikes came in January, when Mike Roselle was elected to Greenpeace USA's board of directors on his fourth try. Roselle, cofounder of Earth First! and a direct-action pioneer, soon became a favorite of Greenpeace International's executive director, German Thilo Bode. For years, say insiders, Bode had been haranguing Greenpeace USA to eliminate the canvass, streamline operations, and get in line with the international program, which largely attempts to focus the public's attention on global warming and forest issues via direct-action campaigns. "I am definitely in sync with Thilo Bode," says Roselle. "Greenpeace is not about community organizing or going door-to-door. It's about raising hell and getting things done. I was trying to get this organization back on track, and I think we've done it."

Barbara Dudley, who resigned as Greenpeace USA's executive director in May, often had her differences with Roselle. "I thought the board would at least fight to keep the canvass," she says, "but the board got bulldozed." Bode, charges Dowie, is "a willful Teutonic guy who never liked Greenpeace USA's quasi-anarchist culture and passionate interest in justice and environmental racism." In September, according to Dudley, Greenpeace International agreed to bail out Greenpeace USA with a $4 million loan, but only on the condition that longtime board member Andr‰ Carothers and Dudley sympathizers Winona LaDuke and Ron Daniels — the board's only members of color and strong proponents of the group's environmental-justice work — step down immediately. By February, she says, the rest of the board, save newcomer Harriet Barlow, will also be sent packing.

"They forced me out," says LaDuke, an Anishinabekwe Indian who bitterly regrets the gutting of campaigns against pesticides, dioxins, and PCBs, many of which pollute poor communities. "I supported cutting the budget, but did I support using that as an excuse to hide a political takeover? No. Greenpeace International is running the organization by force, intimidation, and coercion." Meanwhile, a number of current
and former Greenpeacers, including LaDuke and Dudley, note that the recent job cuts, while perhaps not overtly racist, seemed to disproportionately affect minority employees. "There were a handful of people of color who were at the forefront of our environmental-justice work whose jobs have been eliminated, and that is a matter of grave urgency to many on the staff," says longtime campaigner Jack Weinberg. "I don't think it was intentional that those people were targeted, but it could cause irreparable harm to our work in some communities."

Whether or not that proves to be the case, Greenpeace USA's new era has begun. Funding has increased for protests tied to international campaigns, and though Roselle resigned from the board in August ("I did what I set out to do," he says), he plans to become involved in the group's upcoming forest actions. As for Duchin, she's been able to keep a job but has been reassigned from toxics to climate change. "Some of these recent decisions have been really difficult to understand," she says, "but I guess I have to trust that it's all for the best."

Illustrations by Bob Hambly; Mark Matcho

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!