Greenpeace via Reuters
Greenpeace has stood for action to save endangered species and habitats, sometimes putting lives on the line to protect them. It is sometimes the only weapon we have in the face of big money, overly powerful corporations, and corrupt governments. But there are two principles about civil disobedience: it should be directed at the right people and organizations, and those who truly believe in their actions should be ready to accept the consequences. This is what made this action so hard to understand.
Activists went into a restricted part of one of Peru's most treasured archaeological sites and unfurled long banners with their so-called message. The Nazca Lines are a World Heritage Site, and are fragile. They are geoglyphs, symbols and pictures dating back more than a thousand years, including birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, monkeys, and human figures. They were made by turning over stones darkened by desert varnish to expose the lighter surfaces underneath.
(Photo: Peru Ministry of Culture, via The New York Times)
Mistake two: when faced with the controversy, Greenpeace responded with one of the most mealy-mouthed apologies I've ever seen. Here is the first paragraph:
The problem? No apology for the destruction and damage to a priceless world heritage site, just an "I'm sorry to anyone we offended". These are the kind of words used by politicians who've been caught at KKK meetings and with hookers (or both). A non-apology apology. They hardly acknowledged that they did any damage."Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca Lines. We are deeply sorry for this."
What should be happening? Those responsible should come forth and accept the punishment due them. Should they be jailed? I don't know. At the very least, they should be on hands and knees replacing every stone they overturned. And Greenpeace International? They've severely damaged their reputation and should be doing a lot more than offering half-hearted apologies that say "we know this looks bad" (it really says that). It doesn't "look" bad, it is bad, and there should be a full-scale effort on the part of the organization to fix what they did, not just say words about it.