Sustainability Through the Decades: 1960s & 1970s

Sustainability Through the Decades: 1960s & 1970s

We’re back to explore another few decades of sustainability and eco-activism. This month, we are diving into the 1960s anti-nuclear movement, tracing its progression through the 70s, a decade which also marked the beginning of Canada’s Greenpeace collective.

To contextualize the tensions around this movement, nuclear weapons had grown in popularity during the 40s and 50s. Their progression was led by development within both government and private industry, which offered a wide array of research and production from nuclear power commercial plant systems to targeted weaponry. While nuclear weapons policy had been a topic of debate throughout these decades and years prior, the atomic bombing at Hiroshima in 1945 forced nuclear power to become a public concern. As a result of this catastrophe, governments began to research the environmental effects of radiation and genetic mutation; however, they were simultaneously continuing to fund applications of nuclear power. These conflicting perspectives were the key contributors to the anti-nuclear movement of the time. In the 1970s, anti-nuclear movements became a primary point of public protest; several protests were successful in delaying the production of nuclear plants across the world. While nuclear power has re-emerged over the last few decades, with 6 plants in Canada alone, there continues to be conflicting debate about their benefits as an energy source (with little carbon emissions and no need for imported goods), weighed against the concerns of public safety.

Within the early 1970s, a small group of individuals opposed to nuclear testing in Vancouver formed a collective, naming themselves ‘Greenpeace’. Having heard about nuclear testing, which was scheduled to occur in Alaska, journalist Robert Hunter took to the Vancouver Sun to report of the consequences that could occur as a result of this testing. Moved to action, Hunter managed to inspire 7,000 protestors to block the border between British Columbia and Washington State, halting the transportation of resources. While the team had been able to block the border for approximately 1 hour, they were eventually forced to leave, and had to consider new approaches to protesting. Noting the difficulty protesting from land, the group decided to use boats as their primary protest vehicle, bringing their voices to the nuclear testing site. Armed with a boat and a number of tape recorders, Hunter and the other participants arrived in Alaska and parked a ship directly within the waters where testing was set to begin. They were committed to staying at the site for as long as possible, a choice which forced the American crew to delay their testing for over one month. Now a global structure with organizations in over 55 countries and more than 130,000 members, Greenpeace has become a widely recognizable organization on the frontlines of environmental issues. 

We thank you for joining us on this month’s journey through sustainability and eco-movements of the 60s and 70s - next month we’ll explore the 80s and 90s!


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