The Most Bone-headed Campaign Stunt Award of 2014 goes to …

… Greenpeace

In an effort to bring attention to climate change at a U.N. conference on that topic held in Lima, Peru from December 1st to the 14th, a contingent of Greenpeace campaigners trampled through the Nazca Lines, a United Nations World Heritage Site, causing potentially irreparable damage to the ancient and vulnerable archeological location. The purpose of their hike was to display large yellow plastic letters over the Greenpeace logo trumpeting, “Time for change! The future is renewable.”

“As many as 20 people entered the site without authorization last week to place a sign next to one of the geoglyphs, leaving a trail of footprints that may be impossible to remove. We are not sure it will ever recover,” Deputy Minister for Cultural Heritage Luis Jaime Castillo said after the incident.

The Nazca Lines are one of South America’s most famous archaeological wonders and depict mysterious animals, plants and imaginary beings. They were made 1,500 to 2,000 years ago and can only be fully seen from high altitude. Spread out over about 450 square kilometres of desert in southern Peru, there are many theories about how ancient cultures could possibly have made them and why. UNESCO, which placed the lines on its World Heritage List in 1994, says they “are among archaeology’s greatest enigmas because of their quantity, nature, size and continuity.”

The Peruvian government controls access to the vulnerable archeological site. It can only be viewed from an airplane or five designated viewing points—three natural and two towers built for tourists.

Yet, the delicate nature of their destination appeared to be of no concern to Greenpeace campaigners. Video provided to the Wall Street Journal and PBS News Hour show several people in Greenpeace t-shirts and running shoes tramping through the site with backpacks, laying down the lettering, apparently using some type of brick to keep the yellow plastic letters from blowing away.


Greenpeace 03

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala lashed out at Greenpeace, saying their stunt … showed a “lack of respect.”

“We have been able to appreciate two messages, one explicit but there was another bigger implicit one,” Humala told the daily El Comercio. “The lack of respect for our cultural heritage and Peruvian laws.”

“We fully understand that this looks bad,” said Greenpeace Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, who is South African and travelled to Peru to apologize. “We came across as careless and crass.”

According to Greenpeace, members from Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Argentina and Chile took part in the protest and they all left Peru after the stunt.

The New York Times reported that Peru is conducting a preliminary investigation into potential charges against Argentine activist Mauro Fernandez, who coordinates the organization’s Andean Climate and Energy Campaign.

How can such a thing happen with a well-resourced environmental organization that proclaims its expertise on a range of environmental issues? What would the fly on the wall have to say about prep meetings for the Nazca Lines action? And what priorities were articulated during those meetings?  That Greenpeace traipses the world with campaign-cum-busker activities  designed more for headlines and fundraising than community engagement is not news to many people. But maybe now we can all officially be wary of the Greenpeace drive-by.

In her letter of apology, Greenpeace U.S. Executive Director, Annie Leonard seems to have some understanding of the damage this incident has caused.

“The decision to engage in this activity shows a complete disregard for the culture of Peru and the importance of protecting sacred sites everywhere. There is no apology sufficient enough to make up for this serious lack of judgment.”

Call it what you like—arrogant, misguided, patronizing, oblivious, colonial, entitled—whatever works for you. The message on social media is plain and you can check out that vibe at #fuckyougreenpeace on Twitter.


Author Photo 01 Sandy Tam PhotographyGail Picco is a strategist who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 25 years. She is the author of What the Enemy Thinks, a recent novel set in the nonprofit sector, and is Chair of the Board of the Regent Park Film Festival. She also writes about baseball and F1 racing.

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