Thursday, 1 Aug 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

Do you remember one of Greenpeace’s oldest ships, the Peacock, that tracked Russian whalers and stopped them from slaughtering hundreds of whales? Did you know that in the 1980s, cockroaches invaded the Greenpeace Fort Mason office, forcing campaigners to flee?

Every Thursday at lunchtime, Greenpeace legend Richard Dillman, the special services office and warehouse manager who has been with Greenpeace San Francisco for a quarter-century, tells our staff stories about the history of the organization. Each week after listening to him, I’m inspired to hop on a ship or participate in an epic action — but the reality of my work in San Francisco is not quite as romantic as the Greenpeace legends.

Instead of being on a ship far out in the Pacific Ocean, I am organizing in schools, testifying at city hall, and meeting with community activists at the local pub. Organizing local climate initiatives is not the same as putting your body in front of a harpoon — but the passion and the effort required are just the same.

After Richard’s Greenpeace History 101, I return to my desk to work on the text for our website, www.cleanenergynow.org, which is going to be fully revamped in September. Because the Clean Energy Now! campaign has proved successful in California, it will move beyond the state’s borders this year, working in Florida to force Jeb Bush and Janet Reno to make climate change an issue in the governor’s race and to promote solar energy in the sunniest state in the U.S. Our hope is to repeat the San Francisco solar success story in both Orlando and San Diego.

San Francisco became the nation’s solar leader in November 2001, when the electorate voted in support of two renewable energy initiatives on the ballot. The first (which garnered a stunning 73 percent of the vote) was for $100 million worth of revenue bonds to be spent on 40 megawatts of wind- and solar-generated electricity for the municipal power supply, along with increased energy efficiency in city buildings. The second allows the city to issue further financing to support business and private residences that want to go solar.

Greenpeace and other community groups, labor unions and environmentalists join forces at the Powershift rally.

Gerry McIntyre, Greenpeace.

How did Greenpeace, Vote Solar, Local Power, and others convince San Franciscans that the answer to the energy crisis (or energy scam) was not more dirty power plants? The key to the victory was visibility. Greenpeace worked with five stellar Green Corps organizers to win the two solar initiatives. Within two months, the organizers recruited close to 300 volunteers who distributed flyers and called over 50,000 voters.

Local politicians support clean energy — or at least their constituents are forcing them to. So why does President Bush not get it? Because corporations like ExxonMobil have intentionally sabotaged action on global warming by widely publicizing misinformation and maintaining very close personal and financial ties with the Bush administration — that’s why.

One of the unique aspects of our revamped website will be the community center, where individuals and organizations will be able to post information about their activities. This will be an indispensable feature, because there is a lot of synergy happening in the climate activism community. The Stop ExxonMobil Alliance, in which Greenpeace participates, consists not just of climate activists, but also human rights, labor, social justice, and general environmental groups. For years, we have all been targeting ExxonMobil, but not until recently has the group gained strength and seen positive results — such as the unmistakable message ExxonMobil shareholders delivered in a vote demanding that the company outline its future plans for the promotion of renewable energy.

Earlier this month, Esso France (ExxonMobil is called Esso in Europe) briefly succeeded in silencing its opposition when a French court agreed with the company and censored a parody logo posted on the Internet by anti-Esso activists. In response, the activists plan to switch their website to a U.S. carrier, where it will be protected by First Amendment freedom of expression guarantees. And, even more creatively, the ExxonMobil activists are attacking the oil Goliath with a parody logo contest. If you get bored today at work, design your own mock ExxonMobil/Esso logo and send it to info@stopesso.org.

Unfortunately, I am too drained from staring at my computer all day to come up with any witty ideas, so I look forward to seeing yours!