STEWARDSHIP | ACTIVISM | On How to Change the World

By Rod Marining —

Robert Hunter in the iconic 1975 "Voyage to Save the Whales," which lead to the 1982 United Nation's ban on commercial whaling.

Robert Hunter in the iconic 1975 “Voyage to Save the Whales,” which lead to the 1982 United Nation’s ban on commercial whaling.

When someone comes up to you and says, “I want to spend over $400,000 doing a documentary of you and your friends’ lives, and we are going to call the documentary How to Change the World, it is somewhat unbelievable.

“Why would you spend such a horrendous amount of money on this?” I said to the producer. He replied, “The story is begging to be told.”

Seven years later, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars and an amazing amount of work, the How to Change the World documentary hits film festivals around the world. It is already racking up awards.

How to Change the World begins in the Cold World Era with the US government setting off a nuclear bomb. It is a bomb so big it is hard to put into words. Let’s say the Hiroshima Nuclear Bomb was 12,500 tons of TNT. A one-megaton nuclear bomb would be 80 Hiroshimas. In 1971, the USA was setting off its biggest underground nuclear test ever and it was a five megaton bomb, or 400 Hiroshima bombs crammed into one biggie. The site was at Amchitka Island in the Alaska panhandle and the island sat on an earthquake fault line that extended down the west coast of Canada to Vancouver.

In Vancouver, I was part of a group that gathered in the basement of a church to try to figure out how to stop such a bomb… and the answer was to sail a Canadian fishing boat into the test site. Greenpeace was picked as the name for the 85-foot halibut fishing boat we chartered. The name became the brand name for environmentalism in years to come, and it was formed at the beginning of many new social movements in North America.

Greenpeace did not stop in 1971—they sailed ships into atmospheric nuclear test zones in 1972, 1973, and 1974. In 1975 they began their voyages to “Save the Whales,” which eventually brought about an international ban on all commercial whaling in 1982.

 

A June 17, 1976 file photo of Bob Hunter (left) and Rod Marining (right) preparing for a Greenpeace press conference in Hawaii in 1976 before they embark on their second leg of a journey to chase both the Russian Whaling and Japanese Whaling Fleets. Photograph by: Ralph Bower, PNG

A June 17, 1976 file photo of Bob Hunter (left) and Rod Marining (right) preparing for a Greenpeace press conference in Hawaii in 1976 before they embark on their second leg of a journey to chase both the Russian Whaling and Japanese Whaling Fleets. Photograph by: Ralph Bower, PNG

In 1977, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) split off from Greenpeace with Captain Paul Watson at the helm. SSCS now has nine fully functional 200-foot ships to police the world’s oceans. (See Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars”). The United Nations has only a few thousand land base soldiers. Yet, the UN has created hundreds of laws governing the oceans with no enforcement. The UN does make provisions in its charter for organizations to take up a policing roll. Both Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace fly the UN flag from the tops of their masts, showing their aims to enforce UN laws.

The documentary How to Change to World centers on Greenpeace’s leader Robert Hunter’s (Bob) trials and tribulations, his charm, and political savvy. The film captures the reality of his life and his friends’ journey. For me, it is amazing to watch the film and feel our connection throughout our lives, as each grows old… from youth to 65 years and beyond. No makeup was used—just real life people with gray hair and wrinkles.

Today, Fortune magazine reports “Greenpeace International” global annual budget at $406.2 million. Greenpeace has offices in 52 countries. Each day I receive, on average, 18 published stories on Greenpeace actions. It’s my proof that others are still fighting for our one and only home.

It is wonderful see this film and personally capture the feeling of this early part of my life. It is also a good feeling to know that we are beginning to understand that if we ruin this planet, there ain’t others we can go to. We are in the process of making our bed and we will have to lie in it, when all is done.

 

Rod Marining was the first vice-president of Greenpeace from 1972 to 1982. He was on the first ship, Greenpeace, to the Amchitka Island nuclear test zone. He later transferred onto the second ship, Greenpeace II, a chartered 130 ft. ex-Canadian Minesweeper from World War II, which came within a few hundred miles of the test zone. He now resides between the Cariboo Region and Vancouver.

 


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How to Change the World chronicles the adventures of an eclectic group of young pioneers—Canadian hippie journalists, photographers, musicians, scientists, and American draft dodgers—who set out to stop Richard Nixon’s atomic bomb tests in Amchitka, Alaska, and end up creating the worldwide green movement. Greenpeace was founded on tight knit, passionate friendships forged in Vancouver in the early 1970s. Together, they pioneered a template for environmental activism that mixed daring iconic feats and worldwide media: placing small rubber inflatables between harpooners and whales, blocking ice breaking sealing ships with their bodies, and spraying the pelts of baby seals with dye to make them valueless in the fur market.

The group had a prescient understanding of the power of media, knowing that the advent of global mass communications meant that the image had become a more effective tool for change than the strike or the demonstration. But by the summer of 1977, Greenpeace Vancouver was suing Greenpeace San Francisco and the organization had become a victim of its own anarchic roots saddled with large debts and frequent in-fighting.

How to Change the World draws on interviews with the key players and hitherto unseen archive footage that brings these extraordinary characters and their intense, sometimes eccentric and often dangerous world alive. Somehow the group transcended the contradictions of its members to undertake some of the bravest and most significant environmental protests in history.

The film spans the period from the first expedition to enter the nuclear test zone in 1971 through the first whale and seal campaigns, and ends in 1979, when, victims of their own success, the founders gave away their central role to create Greenpeace International. At its heart is Bob Hunter, a charismatic journalist who wrote his first science fiction comics at the age of 10. Somehow Hunter managed to bind together the ‘mystics and the mechanics’ into a group with a single purpose, often at huge cost to himself.

The story is framed by his first person narrative, drawn from his writings and journals about the group, voiced alongside animations based on his own comics.

How to Change the World is an intimate portrait of the group’s original members and of activism itself—idealism vs. pragmatism, principle vs. compromise. They agreed that a handful of people could change the world; they just couldn’t always agree on how to do it.

 

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