Have you read enough magazine articles about Green this and environment-friendly that? Are you fed up with it all? Or do you still thirst for more information? In the light of a healthily expanding green movement, Andrew Burnet wonders whether the bubble shows any sign of bursting.
The scene — Friends Of The Earth (Scotland)‘s new home at Bonnington Mill in Edinburgh‘s Newhaven Road — is one of optimistic chaos. While someone fits a new lock to the door of his room, Graham McClachlan leads me through the busy main office to a so-far vacant part of the premises, which he says will be filled with information for dealing with the public‘s enquiries. which pour in steadily all day. How do I recycle tin cans? Is this product really ozone-friendly? What is ozone anyway?
I: “GATEltAY TD 3 .ANTARCTIE
Headline grabbers: Greenpeace activists seeltinp publicity in the Antarctic
News Of The World
It’s almost as though the upturn in the green movement‘s fortunes has taken the organisation by surprise. More spacious offices, burgeoning membership, new employees; all made possible by the massive increase in public concern about the environment. Friends Of The Earth (Scotland) are getting to grips with some of the more urgent problems, both locally and globally. They have built up good contacts with district and regional councils, and are
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Japanesewhalers harassed by Greenpeace activists
beginning to enjoy a higher profile as a campaigning body.
But where to from here? What happens ifthe media decide they‘ve had their fill of the environment? How do you keep growing? How do you get through to those people who still aren’t thinking responsibly about the crucial issues?
McClachlan‘s colleague, Kirsten Harris, believes that most people
would join organisations like FoE if they were approached in the right way. In an attempt to attract the unconverted public, FOE (Scotland) have recently mounted an exhibition . ofwork donated by environment- friendly photographer Linda McCartney. The plan was that her name would draw sizeable numbers, who could then be confronted with some of the problems and given the opportunity to ask questions. Over 100 people from various backgrounds attended the exhibition every day, a healthy figure for the gallery. ‘People were attracted by both connections, and in fact came to see what the connection was,‘ reports MacCIachlan. ‘We had a lot of foreign visitors, and quite a few people who were here for the Science Festival.‘ The exhibition is now touring to the City Galleries in Aberdeen and the Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries. and other venues are currently being sought in Glasgow and elsewhere.
But while public interest increases. the problems are still monumental and won‘t go away. For example, much of nuclear waste disposed of in
Britain (some ofit imported from other countries) will be hazardous for tens of thousands of years. And the liberation of Eastern Europe is not all joy. Glasnost allowed us all to see just how badly Soviet industry had affected its surroundings; and for all its strengths, perestroika is almost certain to lead to an increasingly consumer-oriented society in the Eastern Bloc.
Fresh problems are emerging too; particularly those of misinformation. One depressing example is the way advertisers have used the .‘green‘ tag to promote goods only marginally less harmful than the standard formulas, such as ‘phosphate-free‘
washing powders that still contain enzymes. bleaches. carcinogenic NTA and other dangerous chemicals; or ‘ozone-friendly‘ aerosols. whose propellants continue to add to the greenhouse effect.
The trouble can only be combatted by increasing the public‘s knowledge and understanding ofenvironmental threats. principally through the media.
The most prominent lobbying organisation is probany Greenpeace. with its well-known logo, its clearly defined image. 3()().()()()-strong British membership and trendy merchandise. But Greenpeace‘s well-publicised ‘actions‘ are regarded in some quarters as headline-grabbing . stunts. Greenpeace‘s press officer Stan Crush defends these tactics. ‘Our non-violent direct actions are a kind of last resort.‘ she says. ‘We will always try campaigning first. but sometimes it is the only way to get something done.‘ One example she gives is that of the Japanese whalers.
Following the International Whaling Commission‘s moratorium on whaling in the Antarctic. the Soviet Union ceased commercial whaling in 1987. But the enormous cash rewards proved irresistible to the Japanese. who continued to hunt severely depleted species despite international outrage.
Finally. Greenpeace stepped in. and following a series ofdirect actions. the issue made international front page news. and was forced onto the agenda in this year‘s Japanese elections, with significant effects on the whale population in Antarctic waters.
It should be added. however. that the campaign was supported by press advertising. by pressure exerted by the public through Ml’s and even by Mrs Thatcher. who raised the question with the Japanese Prime Minister Mr Kaifu when he visited Britain in January.
But these things would be infinitely more difficult ifGreenpeace did not enjoy a positive relationship with the media. whose representatives often attend direct actions to record and report the events. This relationship has — quite naturally — improved as green issues have become more newsworthy. ‘A few years ago.‘ remembers Crush. ‘we'd be ‘phoning journalists and trying to get them interested in a story. Nowadays. they‘re much more interested and informed: there‘s more recognition ofthe problems.‘
For the time being. it seems. the public still wants to read reports and watch television programmes about the environment. As new
developments emerge. and while the sense of urgency persists. the green movement can expect a good press. But there are still many people to be reached, ideas to be popularised. changes to be made. lfpublic concern proves to be faddish. or complacency sets in. the situation will continue to deteriorate.
94The List 4— 17 May 1990