Author Tags: Environment, Essentials 2010, Religion
QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:
The creation of the world’s leading organization for environmental activism is probably the greatest achievement of British Columbia as a distinct society, so if the Encyclopedia of B.C. ranks as the most important volume ever published in B.C., it’s easy to argue that Rex Weyler’s Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists and Visionaries Changed the World (2004) must be considered as a close second.
Weyler’s summary of Greenpeace Foundation activities between 1970 and 1979 was endorsed by Greenpeace pioneer Robert Hunter as “a masterpiece.” It does a better job than Hunter’s own personalized account to set the record straight, without undue boosterism, and clearly recalls how a Quaker lawyer named Irving Stowe and a bunch of so-called hippies rented the converted Phyllis Cormack to sail north on a Quixotic and dangerous mission to stop nuclear testing, greatly boosted by the public relations savvy of on-board journalist Ben Metcalfe, thereby igniting an explosion of ecological awareness around the world.
Yale-educated Stowe suffered from seasickness, so he stayed on shore to coordinate political pressure, but it was his Don’t Make A Wave Committee, the forerunner of Greenpeace, that organized the 1971 fundraising concert with Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Phil Ochs, and chartered the boat to “bear witness” (a Quaker tradition of silent protest) after Committee member Marie Bohlen had suggested sending a vessel northward to serve as a floating picket line.
Rex Weyler was an apprentice engineer for Lockheed Aerospace, south of San Francisco, when he stumbled upon the Summer of Love in 1967. He marched with students of the Sorbonne during the Paris riots of 1968 and witnessed the demise of the Love Generation at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, California, in 1969. In 1972, he crossed the 49th parallel as one of the last of some 150,000 draft evaders to enter Canada, the largest single political exodus in U.S. history. In Vancouver he met Phyllis Cormack veterans Bob Keziere (photographer) and Bob Cummings (Georgia Straight correspondent) and learned about the Greenpeace initiative to halt French nuclear tests in the South Pacific at Moruroa. He became a director of the Greenpeace Foundation and its campaign photographer from 1974 to 1979, an editor and publisher of Greenpeace Chronicles magazine from 1975 to 1979, a co-founder of Greenpeace International, and a director of Greenpeace Canada until 1982.
In the 1990s, Rex Weyler helped draft legislation for B.C.’s new pulp mill effluent regulations, limiting dioxin releases into the Georgia Strait. A co-founder of the Hollyhock Educational Institute, he has contributed to publications that include the New York Times, Smithsonian, Rolling Stone and National Geographic. Weyler has also been publisher and editor of Shared Vision magazine. More recently he wrote The Jesus Sayings: The Quest for His Authentic Message (2008).
American-born Greenpeace activist Rex Weyler grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Denver, Colorado and Midland, Texas. He studied mathematics and physics at Occidental College in Los Angeles and returned to California to work as an apprentice engineer for Lockheed Aerospace south of San Francisco. "During a weekend in the city I stumbled upon the Summer of Love." Impressed by the music of Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Miles Davis and the Doors, he later marched with students of the Sorbonne during the Paris riots of 1968. "Seeing images of burnt children and body bags in Vietnam, I ripped up my draft card and sprinkled it through an Austrian forest." After he was suspended from his college for joining in a blockade of military recruiters, he witnessed 'the demise of the Love Generation' at the violent Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, California in December of 1969. He travelled in Europe and India, met and married a Dutch woman in Holland, and returned to Palo Alto, California in 1972. Pursued by the FBI for draft evasion, he came to Vancouver with the help of a disarmament group in Seattle. "I crossed the border among the last of some 150,000 [draft evaders] in Canada, the largest single political exodus in U.S. history."
The first Greenpeace member he met was photographer Bob Keziere who lived only a block away from him in Kitsilano. Ron Precious took him to the Cecil Hotel beer parlour where he met Georgia Straight publisher Dan McLeod, writer Bob Cummings and he began to learn more about the Greenpeace organization and its new ititiative to halt French nuclear tests in the South Pacific at Moruroa. He was a director of the Greenpeace Foundation and its campaign photographer from 1974-1979. He was an editor and publisher of Greenpeace Chronicles magazine from 1975 to 1979, a co-founder of Greenpeace International, and a director of Greenpeace Canada until 1982. In the 1990s he helped draft legislation for BC's new pulp mill effluent regulations, limiting dioxin releases into the Georgia Strait. A co-founder of Hollyhock Educational Institute, he has contributed as a freelancer to publications that include the New York Times, The Smithsonian, Rolling Stone and National Geographic. He became publisher and editor of Shared Vision magazine in Vancouver where he lives with his wife Lisa Gibbons, and has three sons.
Rex Weyler's summary of Greenpeace Foundation activities between 1970 and 1979, Greenpeace, was endorsed by Greenpeace pioneer Robert Hunter as “a masterpiece”. His other books are a Native American history, Blood of the Land, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and a sprituality manual Chop Wood, Carry Water.
The Jesus Sayings by intellectual pilgrim Rex Weyler surveys more than 200 ancient documents in his search for the authentic voice of Jesus. Along the way Weyler discounts many contemporary beliefs, making clear that Jesus never claimed to be the son of God. While referencing the investigative Biblical scholarship Margaret Starbird, Nicholas Wright, Robert W. Funk and others, Weyler attempts to the answer down-to-earth questions raised by the German linguist Hermann Reimarus in 1760: What events reported in the Gospels actually happened? And, what ideas and teachings from the surviving record can be traced to the historical Jesus? In other words, Weyler asks, "What can we reasonably say about the historical Jesus, and what did this person teach?" Weyler's intentions are not to debunk Christianity so much as to refocus on the essence of Jesus's radical message: serve God by serving others. In doing so, Weyler is willing to acknowledge the validity of "secular and agnostic reactions to violence among fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus." He sees books such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong as healthy rather than destructive. "A vast and glorious landscape exists between the extremes of religious fundamentalism and absolute rationalism," he writes.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Chop Wood Carry Water: A Guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1984). Co-editors Rick Fields, Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, Rick Ingrasci
Blood of the Land: Government and Corporate War Against Indigenous America (New York: Vintage Books, 1984; Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 1992)
Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists and Visionaries Changed the World (Raincoast, 2004)
The Jesus Sayings: The Quest for the Authentic Teachings of Jesus (Anansi, 2008) 978-0-88784-212-2
[BCBW 2010] "Greenpeace"
Greenpeace (Raincoast $39.95)
Gandhi be praised. The fantastical, life affirming, death defying, heart-stoppingly erratic and distinctly British Columbian story of flawed heroes, the power of belief and ballsy propaganda, all for a good cause, has been gathered responsibly and well, into one reliable volume, as Greenpeace (Raincoast $39.95), by Rex Weyler, to go alongside Robert Hunter’s original version of events, The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey (Arsenal Pulp $24.95), with photographs by Robert Keziere.
If Greenpeace could be made into a movie, it could only be directed by Peter Jackson as a trilogy. In the early ‘70s, the environmental protest movement was Tolkien for real.Even at the time, Hunter referred to Vancouver as the Shire and he dubbed their crusty-but-trusty Captain John Cormack ‘Lord of the Piston Rings’. It all started when a bunch of boys went on a quest on a converted halibut seiner. Amid the pot smoke and rhetoric, the depths of Mordor were somewhere in the Aleutian Islands.
Ben Metcalfe (the ‘Alpha Intellectual’) manipulated the world media and Bob Hunter launched his ‘mind bombs.’ It was Hunter who coined the slogan Don’t Make A Wave to galvanize global fears that a tidal wave might ensue if the U.S. succeeded in detonating a 5.2 megaton hydrogen bomb in Alaska as planned.
Single women weren’t allowed on the first protest voyage to Amchitka simply because the old fashioned skipper of the Phyllis Cormack (named after his wife Phyllis Cormack) owned the goddam boat and he was implacable. Hunter dubbed the crew ‘Captain Cormack’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. At first the boys happily debated the merits of Herbert Marcuse while listening to Moody Blues and Beethoven, but they were soon perplexed because somebody on board was stealing chocolate. Frequently seasick, they worried that one of their kind was a CIA operative. For two days they escaped detection by the US Coast Guard simply because they had steered too far in the wrong direction. The captain terrorized them. The crew became divided. Mechanics vs. mystics. Canadians vs. Americans.
Jeez, did all that stuff really happen? Yes, Virginia, a bunch of guys really did get into an old fishboat in 1971 and sail towards the Bering Sea to prevent the evil Richard Nixon and the U.S. military from detonating an experimental blast 400 times greater than the one that levelled Hiroshima.
Few people recall there was a second Greenpeace vessel, the Greenpeace Too, that made it into the danger zone of Amchitka, only to have the bomb explode anyway. Just as Steve Fonyo outran Terry Fox, succeeding in crossing the country on one leg, the contributions of that second (more courageous? more foolhardy?) crew are barely mentioned in Weyler’s account, or elsewhere.
The U.S. Atom Energy Commission had already detonated two previous explosions in Alaska in 1965 and 1969. Nixon eventually won the Amchitka battle of wills but he lost the propaganda war of beliefs. The largest man-made explosion in history occurred on November 6, 1971 but from those deadly ashes there arose Greenpeace, an environmental success story so charming and persuasive that even the likes of W.A.C. Bennett jumped onto the bandwagon.
It all started accidentally on purpose. Once upon a very different time—when the word ecology was new—some 1950s-style disarmament types in Vancouver, led by Jewish Quakers Irving & Dorothy Stowe and their fellow American transplants Jim & Marie Bohlen, melded with 1960s style environmental activists who were inspired by headstrong journalists Ben Metcalfe (CBC Radio), Bob Hunter (Vancouver Sun) and Bob Cummings (Georgia Straight)—the Huey, Duey and Luey of Left Coast idealism—and, literally in their wake, a save-the-planet movement called Greenpeace was born.
Along the way these visionaries were aided and abetted by Joni Mitchell, Pierre Berton & Gordon Lightfoot, a homegrown ecologist named Patrick Moore, a gutsy activist named Paul Watson (later Moore’s nemesis), Brigitte Bardot, a heroic and stubborn sailor named David McTaggart (who dismissed Metcalfe as a fraud), a whale named Skana, quixotic cetologist Paul Spong, agitprop comic Wavy Gravy, the Pope, Jean-Paul Sarte, Dan McLeod, Yippie founder Paul Krassner and…. well, there are too many to mention them all.
Weyler’s composite history Greenpeace reads like a hip James Michener novel, replete with fabricated snippets of conversation and scientific asides. It owes much to the records and opinions of the late Ben Metcalfe and Bob Hunter, both of whom are writers who have left a trail of quotes and opinions. Hunter’s Warriors of the Rainbow appears to be the main source for Weyler’s version of that remarkable first voyage.
Weyler’s diplomatic attempt to make a definitive volume probably pulls more than a few punches, but he gives credit to the importance of some lesser-known activists such as Walrus Oakenbough and hippie Rod Warining, founder of the Rocky Rococo Theatre Company. Warining led an important (and successful) camp-in protest against plans for a hotel complex at the entrance to Stanley Park and he was the first Greenpeace victim of police brutality when he was beaten in Paris, having chained himself inside Notre Dame Cathedral. The Straight’s key correspondent Bob Cummings is given short shrift, perhaps because Weyler arrived in Vancouver as a draft evader in June of 1972 and he wasn’t here to appreciate the extent to which Georgia Straight created the zeitgeist. Bob Cummings committed suicide in 1987, unheralded.
Similarly, Weyler’s coverage of the 1970 benefit concert omits reference to the bizarre moment when Phil Ochs, the most potent American protest singer of his era, stepped onto the stage at Pacific Coliseum and acknowledged Canada’s newly implemented War Measures Act. “Geez, I’ve never played in a police state before,” Ochs quipped, only to be booed by his audience. They came for entertainment, not politics.
But by the time Hunter/Frodo, Wyler and the stalwart Moore gather in an Amsterdam bar and accept the dissolution of the Greenpeace Foundation in 1979, toasting Captain Cormack in the process, we feel we’ve been taken on a long, magical journey, grateful for the experience. All that’s really missing is a soundtrack.
[Also see entries for Ben Metcalfe and Robert Hunter]
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2004]
Rex Weyler takes 600 pages to document the nine-year history of the Greenpeace Foundation. Along the way we learn:
• The Peace symbol first emerged as a logo for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament partially led by Bertrand Russell in England in 1958. The CND purposely didn’t copyright the image.
• Long before Marie Bohlen suggested sending a protest vessel to Amchitka, a former U.S. Navy captain named Albert Bigalow sailed his 32-foot Golden Rule from California towards the Americans’ Enewetak Island nuclear test site in 1958. He was intercepted and arrested in Honolulu, charged with criminal conspiracy.
• The Cecil Hotel Pub on Granville Street was the focal point for intelligentsia of the counter-culture movement but Bill Darnell coined the term Green Peace in the Fireside Room of the Vancouver Unitarian Church on Oak Street. As Irving Stowe was leaving a Don’t Make A Wave Committee meeting, he flashed his customary V sign and said, “Peace.” Darnell offhandedly replied, “Make it a green peace.”
• In 1969 Ben Metcalfe paid for 12 billboards around Vancouver that declared: ECOLOGY? LOOK IT UP! YOU’RE INVOLVED.
• The first Greenpeace pamphlet was written by 71-year-old Lille d’Easum of the BC Voice of women in March of 1970. It was entitled Nuclear Testing in the Aleutians.
• When Irving Stowe suggested having a rock concert to raise money, he phoned Joan Baez. She gave him the phone numbers for Phil Ochs and Joni Mitchell. Mitchell asked if she could bring along a friend—James Taylor. In their Fifties, the Stowes were confused and wondered if she meant James Brown. The concert’s mystery guest James Taylor was never mentioned in any advertising.
• In charge of Greenpeace worldwide in the late 1970s, Patrick Moore was making only $1,000 per month. Ultimately the Vancouver-run Greenpeace Foundation receded to become Greenpeace Canada.
The Jesus Sayings: The Quest for the Authentic Teachings of Jesus
The proliferation of doomsday believers, and the reinvigoration of the time-honoured antipathy between Muslims and Christians since 9-11, has given rise to the spread of increasingly vocal anti-religionists such as Christopher Hitchens—but that doesn’t upset Greenpeace activist Rex Weyler.
Weyler has explored his Quakerism by writing a new book about what Jesus really said—as opposed to what others have fictionalized as his words.
Weyler in his The Jesus Sayings: The Quest for the Authentic Teachings of Jesus (Anansi $29.95), surveys more than 200 ancient documents in his search for the authentic voice of Jesus. Along the way Weyler discounts many contemporary beliefs, making clear that Jesus never claimed to be the son of God.
While referencing the investigative Biblical scholarship of Margaret Starbird, Nicholas Wright, Robert W. Funk and others, Weyler attempts to answer down-to-earth questions raised by the German linguist Hermann Reimarus in 1760: What events reported in the Gospels actually happened? And, what ideas and teachings from the surviving record can be traced to the historical Jesus?
In other words, Weyler asks, “What can we reasonably say about the historical Jesus, and what did this person teach?”
Weyler’s intentions are not to debunk Christianity so much as to refocus on the essence of Jesus’s radical message: serve God by serving others. In doing so, Weyler is willing to acknowledge the validity of “secular and agnostic reactions to violence among fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus.” He sees books such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong as healthy rather than destructive.
“A vast and glorious landscape exists between the extremes of religious fundamentalism and absolute rationalism,” he writes.