Sunday, 7 June 2015


The May Stockport meeting was given by Janet Miller a long standing member of Greenpeace who has taken part in a number of actions.  

She began her presentation with a short film of Greenpeace actions. Over the years she has been a fundraiser, an active supporter, a legal support worker, a non-violence trainer, an activist and climber, and a UK Board member.

Greenpeace started in Canada in 1971 to protest against US nuclear testing off the coast of Alaska. They hired a boat to try to stop it happening and renamed the boat Greenpeace. They got close to the test site but were unable to prevent that test. A few years later the US was committed to non-testing. Another early campaign was against Russian whaling.

To prevent the culling of seal pups, they sprayed green dye on the pups to reduce the value of the pelts. The publicity resulted in Greenpeace offices springing up all over the place and David MacTaggart had the vision to turn it into a global organisation, with an International Headquarters based in Amsterdam, and National and Regional Offices in 50 countries. They also have a Science Laboratory for research, a Marine division with three ships, a hot-air balloon and a helicopter. There are some 1,000 to 2,000 paid employees and many more unpaid supporters.

In the 1970s they developed a set of core values: Bearing witness (like the Quakers), Non-violence, Personal action, Internationalism, and Independence financially from corporations or governments. Collectively these values confer an obligation to confront and take action against activities that are perceived to be against the common good regardless of who is responsible.

Their methodology involves: Targeting Power (so they protest against the right people), Investigation and research (e.g. find out who is vulnerable to pressure in the supply chain for timber), Seeking Solutions and using a Range of Techniques of Persuasion.

Investigations often start with Google Earth. Photos are sometimes taken from aeroplanes or people on the ground. They sometimes trap politicians by pretending to be friendly companies. 

When they were opposing the third Heathrow runway they adopted the approach of supporting HS2 with a banner saying YES! P.S.GORDON NO NEED FOR THAT THIRD RUNWAY at St. Pancras Station. They also set up booths with members dressed as air stewards handing out free rail tickets.

Lots of talk takes place before actions are initiated. There is a lot of behind the scenes work in companies who are often keen to act before their reputation is damaged. They also use courts, planning enquiries and Judicial Review. Public engagement is important with stalls at carnivals etc. Sometimes company adverts are changed into spoof adverts eg with orang-utans shown in bikinis.

Direct Communications often work. To draw attention to dolphins killed by fishing trawlers, dead dolphins were dumped on the doorstep of the French Embassy. Morrison’s were persuaded to get fish from sustainable sources, and McDonald’s did a complete reversal and became champions of the rainforest. To draw attention to fracking it was suggested they drill outside George Osborne’s constituency office. A small protest against the Brazil State Visit to the UK got massive coverage in Brazil and helped to protect the rain forest. 

On the whole companies are easier to persuade than governments because of the bottom line.

Successes claimed include:

  • 1972 – US abandons nuclear testing
  • !982 – Moratorium on whaling
  • 1989 – Ban on high seas large-scale driftnets
  • 1991 – 50 year ban on mineral exploitation in Antarctica
  • 1993 – Ban on dumping radioactive & industrial waste at sea
  • 1994 – Antarctic whale sanctuary approved 
  • 1996 – Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
  • 1998 – Ban on dumping of offshore installations at sea 
  • 2001 UN ban on Persistent organic pollutants 
  • Hundreds of smaller victories

History of Humanism

John Coss gave the May meeting at GMH.

The talk was divided into the four headings of: A. Humanism – meaning and language B. Key themes of humanist thinking C. Some key thinkers in the development of humanist thought D. Organised humanism 

The first of these, Humanism – meaning and language, covered both the modern interpretation and the evolution of humanist thinking through its notable phases: ancient Greek and Roman thinking; Renaissance humanism; Enlightenment humanism; the 19th century ethical movement. It also covered an overview of 19th century activists like Owen, Carlisle and Holyoake, and included an explanation of words related to humanism, e.g. freethinking and secularism. 

Moving on to Key themes of humanist thinking John expanded on: non-belief; rational explanation and scientific thinking; freedom, individualism and secularism; non-religious morality; and human rights. 

The talk then went on to cover Some key thinkers in the development of humanist thought, e.g. Epicurus - ancient Greece, Erasmus - the Renaissance, Hume - the Enlightenment, J S Mill - 19th century, and Abraham Maslow - 20th century. Women and Humanism was also discussed in this part of the talk.  

Lastly John gave an overview of the history of Organised Humanism in England. It covered the organisations we know today, e.g. the BHA, the National Secular Society and the Rationalist Association, some of the key buildings like South Place Chapel and Conway Hall, and a brief history of the Freethinker publication.

The Golden Rule

We often refer to the Golden Rule in discussions about humanism and religion, and we can all probably recite our own version of it. But have you wondered where it came from? Well here’s a potted history:  

“Do not do to others what you would not want them do to you.” (CONFUCIUS -  born 551 BC)

"I will act towards others exactly as I would act towards myself.“  (BUDDHISM - The Siglo-Vada Sutta, about 500 BC)

“We should conduct ourselves toward others as we would have them act toward us.”  (ARISTOTLE - 384 BC) 

"This is the sum of duty: Do nothing to others which, if done to you, could cause you pain."  (HINDUISM - from The Mahabharata, about 150 BC) 

"What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others." (ANCIENT GREECE - Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, about 90 AD) 

"Love your neighbour as yourself." (JUDAISM / CHRISTIANITY – Leviticus 19, in The Torah, about 400 BC, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 22 and Mark 12, 1st Century AD) 

"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.” (JUDAISM - from Hillel: The Talmud, about 50 BC) 

"None of you truly believes, until he wishes for his brothers what he wishes for himself." (ISLAM – Hadith a saying of The Prophet Muhammad, 7th Century) 

"As you think of yourself, so think of others." (SIKHISM - from Guru Granth Sahib, 1604) 

"Treat other people as you'd want to be treated in their situation; don't do things you wouldn't want to have done to you.” (British Humanist Association, 1999)

Thanks to Jeremy Rodell the BHA’s Dialogue Officer for compiling the above.