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Vancouver's Greenpeace turns 40

09/15/2011 09:50 EDT | Updated 11/15/2011 05:12 EST

Forty years ago a cadre of anti-nuclear protesters in Vancouver came together and gave birth to a international environmental movement that would eventually grow to include three million members worldwide.

Greenpeace began its first action on Sept. 15, 1971, when a handful of members acting as the "Don't Make a Wave Committee" set sail for the nuclear test area in Amchitka, Alaska, in a rented fish packing boat.

After a name change and a number of direct action protests, which often ended with arrests and media attention, Greenpeace attracted legions of supporters.

Kumi Naidoo, the executive director for Greenpeace International, came to Vancouver for the 40th anniversary celebrations this weekend. He said he felt compelled to look out into the harbour where it all began.

"One is inspired by the vision that the founders actually had," he said.

"And it also is a reminder of the power of ordinary citizens to be able to shape history."

Patrick Moore is in the ranks of the Greenpeace founders who set out to shape history.

Moore was an original crew member and former president of the organization. He now consults with corporations to shape their media strategies in environmental matters.

Different directions

Another co-founder, Paul Watson, went in another direction. He has remained quite active in direct action campaigns.

Watson left Greenpeace to form a more aggressive organization for the protection of marine mammals in 1977, which became the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1981.

CBC News spoke with Watson via Skype, while he was aboard the Sea Shepherd off the coast of England this week. Watson said that Greenpeace isn't as effective as it once was because it has grown too big.

"I think that we accomplished so much more with Greenpeace during the first 10 years than they're doing now because they're just so encumbered with bureacracy. I think they have around 2,400 employees worldwide now," Watson said.

"I think Greenpeace has become an international, multi-national corporation."

Naidoo disagreed, saying that Greenpeace is still relevant, 40 years later.

"Having won the debate and mainstream.. doesn't mean that we've actually won in term of implementation," he said.

"I would argue that Greenpeace's role now is needed as much if not more than ever before."

Naidoo also said that he was arrested during an environmental campaign this past summer.

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