Standing on the sidelines as a journalist, I’d always secretly admired people who “fought the good fight” and tried to do something positive. I’d marvelled at their ability to keep going in the face of so much official opposition and public apathy. As a local and network news reporter I had plenty of opportunities to observe their “actions” (critics called them “stunts”) firsthand. I wondered how they kept the faith. My first approach to this story was a film we shot on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of Greenpeace, a group born and raised in Vancouver. It turned out to be one of my all-time favourite stories. Here’s the synopsis:
Mystics, Mechanics & Mindbombs
A Midlife Crisis on the Green Crusade (CBC — October 1996)
“Two former presidents of Greenpeace have buried the hatchet and agreed to disagree about the fate of the planet. Bob Hunter still thinks we’re living on borrowed time, if not entirely doomed; Patrick Moore has written a coffee table book in defense of clear-cut logging. Once upon a time they were best friends, sailing the high seas to stop nuclear weapons testing. They sailed again to save the whales. They scrambled over fractured sea ice to protect baby seals. And then, in the campaign to stop logging, Moore, who’d grown up in his father’s timber camp on Vancouver Island, broke ranks. Hunter called him an ‘Eco-Judas.’
“How could two former brothers-in-arms stray so far apart? Mystics, Mechanics & Mind Bombs unravels the sequence of events that tore the fabric of friendship between Hunter and Moore. It’s a story of two brash young men who survived and adapted in very different ways to changing circumstance. At times acrimonious, at times raucous and funny, it’s a memoire of Sixties idealism–modified by 25 years of life experience and countless collisions with reality.”
Bob Hunter (who, sadly, has since died of cancer) described himself as one of the Greenpeace mystics. He remains an icon and hero to many in the movement. Patrick Moore, one of the original Greenpeace mechanics, a rationalist to the bitter end, still considers himself an environmental thinker, a PhD ecologist. And not in any way a traitor to the movement. The things these guys did together—like putting their lives at risk in a little rubber Zodiac, dodging explosive harpoons to save whales—created the mindbomb imagery that shook and changed the world.
After years apart we brought them together again for the filming of our Mystics documentary. We engineered a reunion of the early Greenpeace campaigners aboard the fishing vessel Phyllis Cormack, a durable old seineboat that was chartered in the fall of 1971 by the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee” (predecessor to Greenpeace) to sail to Alaska to protest American nuclear weapons testing. As our camera rolled in 1996 Hunter and Moore proved they’d lost neither their spark nor their enthusiasm. Here are a few choice words:
The voyage had not been planned as a “rational” act, but rather as an act of faith. We were admittedly counting on a miracle… Could we count on the I Ching to guide us to victory long after Western rationality and industrial genius had failed? If you believed we could, you were a bona fide mystic.
I’m basically a mechanic… a pragmatist… I deal with the nuts and bolts of the situation… and try to make sure people don’t do things that are beyond the realm of possibility.
Looking back over it — it turns out we could change things. And given our numbers, relative to the numbers of people on planet earth, I think we moved mountains.
Getting in front of a whaling boat’s harpoon in a little rubber boat is a classic case of mind bombing. It just works.
We were so close, it was almost like a family… At a certain point it began to fragment, which maybe is just a normal part of something like this.
Making the transition from pure environmentalism, as a kind of green religion, into sustainability theory — where you have to have a more holistic view of the human species and its relationship to the total environment — that is a difficult jump for a lot of people to make.
I love Pat like a brother. We went through some really amazing experiences together and I’ve always felt bad criticizing him… But you’re known by the company you keep. And if you’re hanging out with the guys who are raping the forests then — I’m sorry — you’re one of them, to an extent.
I don’t know exactly why it’s happened but the environmental movement to some extent has abandoned science and logic as the underpinning of its policy and philosophy.
And so it went… Even with Hunter’s passing, this story is far from over.