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When Canadian journalist Bob Hunter and his co-founders first launched Greenpeace in 1971 they didn’t have a lot of money, they didn’t have an office, and they didn’t have experience. What they did have was a talent for telling a good story and a huge goal: change the world. With next to no resources, they managed to do just that—even in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles.
What the Greenpeace team accomplished with little more than their constant dedication is super inspiring to anyone who wants to change the world—or even their own neighbourhood. Hunter said that “90 percent of history is being in the right place at the right time” but what about the other 10 percent? In Hunter’s case, he made history by being courageous in both big and small ways. Here are five moments from How To Change The World, the new documentary about the origins of Greenpeace, that highlight the brave things he did and how he did them. Use them as motivation to make a difference yourself—big or small.
Don’t automatically assume everyone’s against you
Before they officially became Greenpeace, Hunter and his crew set out in a barely sea-worthy boat to protest nuclear bomb testing in Amchitka. Up and down the west coast Canadians and Americans alike were terrified by Richard Nixon’s decision to detonate a nuclear bomb on the Alaskan island. The US government knew about Hunter’s expedition and sent the coast guard to keep them from reaching Amchitka. When the coast guard captain boarded the Greenpeace boat, a member of his crew handed Hunter a letter. It read “We feel that what you are doing is for the good of mankind… good luck. We are behind you 100 percent.” The letter was signed by 16 members of the crew (everyone but the captain), who were later disciplined for writing it. Even though the activists never reached Amchitka, they were cheered up by the support expressed by people they would have never thought of as allies.
Small victories are still victories
The newly formed Greenpeace organization didn’t manage to stop the first nuclear test at Amchitka but the publicity their voyage received kept the story in the media and inspired 10,000 students to protest in front of the US embassy in Vancouver. The political pressure was massive. After the first test, Nixon quietly cancelled the program without explanation. In 2025, Amchitka will become a restricted access wildlife preserve.
A big part of winning is just showing up
In How To Change The World they call it “putting your body where your mouth is.” For Hunter, that meant leaving his job as a reporter at the Vancouver Sun and committing himself to the environmental movement full time. You might not be able to do that (because rent) but that doesn’t mean you can’t show up—at protests, at volunteer organizations, at donation centres… you get the idea. Hunter is proof that one person can make all the difference.
New ideas are powerful ideas
After their success with Amchitka, Hunter turned his attention to whales. ‘Whales?’ thought some of his fellow activists. They didn’t get it. But Hunter saw the whaling industry as symbolic of how we treat animals and the planet in general—cruelly, and needlessly so. Greenpeace captured their clash with Russian whaling ships on camera and the footage went viral—not that they called it that back then. Hunter referred to it as “bringing everyone on the boat.”
In the early days, when Greenpeace didn’t have a cent, they had to rely on the community for everything from free labour to equipment like cameras, Zodiacs, and synthesizers (to talk to the whales, obviously). Every time they needed something, someone would show up to lend or donate it to them. It was magic. Just kidding, it was old-school crowdsourcing—the same thing we do with fundraising sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter and sharing economy sites like Airbnb and Lyft. Hunter may not have had the internet, but he did have traditional media and good old word of mouth.
How To Change The World premieres tonight at 9:00e on HBO Canada and streams on Cravetv beginning on December 4. Watch the trailer and get inspired right here: