I’m eternally thankful that the title of Jerry Rothwell’s Greenpeace documentary, How to Change the World, is an ironic one. Structured around a series of Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter’s ‘rules’ (from “Plant a Mind Bomb” to “Let the Power Go”), Rothwell is more interested in deconstructing the failures of Greenpeace than lionising its successes (though there is, naturally, a little of both).
Founded in Vancouver in 1971, Greenpeace protested against the Amchitka nuclear bomb test before broadening its reach to resist Russian whalers – a hitherto unseen “union of the peace movement with the environmental movement.” The worldwide successes of their campaigns brought them fame and influence, but opened up rifts between the founding members.
How to Change the World, then, is more rise/fall story than hagiography, using an evocative soundtrack featuring the likes of Can and Pink Floyd to chronicle the organisations path from principles to platitudes. The documentary’s insights into Greenpeace’s nationalist underpinning are particular pronounced; we watch the U.S. government push them towards Russian whalers while defending their Japanese allies, or as they dilute their protest against Canadian seal clubbers. This insightfully underscores the latter-era failures of an organisation more interested in stoking racism than authentic environmental sustainability.