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Archive for March, 2008

Review of The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey by Robert Hunter. Arsenal Pulp Press: 2004.

According to the butterfly effect, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in China can ultimately result in a tornado in North America. That is, small variations in initial conditions of a given system can have large and unpredictible effects. The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey demonstrates how a small act by a determined group of individuals begat the worldwide environmental organisation known as Greenpeace.

In 1972, a group of intrepid peaceniks from western Canada set sail on a dilapidated forty-year old fishing vessel from Vancouver to Amchitka (a small island in the Aleutians), hoping to force the cancellation of nuclear device test by the U.S. government. The Greenpeace To Amitchka is a first-person account by this journey by the late Bob Hunter.

Hunter was well known to Torontonians as an environmentalist, newspaper columnist, and television reporter. It is not quite as well known that Hunter was a founding member of Greenpeace and was on the ill-fated voyage of the Phyllis McCormack that fall of 1972. That persevering vessel would be renamed en route as the Greenpeace as it continued the desperate and ultimately futile voyage.

The book is written in a late 1960s “gonzo journalism” style reminiscent of writers such as Hunter S. Thompson. As such, the prose comes across as somewhat dated, yet retains a lively and frenetic feel. The tensions between the picaresque participants are captured with unabashed honesty, and Hunter writes with a mixture of humour and pathos. Like Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, the book provides a vivid description of a remote part of the world that few of us have or ever will see. The book also contains many photographs by Robert Keziere, who perfectly captures the bleak landscapes and stoic countenances of the participants.

The voyage was unsuccessful in its initial goal of stopping the nuclear test. Bad weather, frequent delays, harassment by the U.S. Navy, and a rift among the protesters all contributed to the cancellation of the voyage. However, the dejected protesters returned to Vancouver as environmental celebrities, due to the growth of public awareness resulting from media coverage of the voyage. Like the butterfly’s wings, this initial futile and seemingly inconsequential event sowed the seed for a trans-national environmental movement… a movement that became Greenpeace.

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