In his article, Greenpeace and Political Globalism, Paul Wapner argues that Greenpeace has changed environmental politics because it has fostered an ecological sensibility in many countries. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Greenpeace and its operations. And, in his article, Wapner fails to provide ample evidence to prove that Greenpeace does in fact produce a change in the ecological sensibility of citizens across nations. I understand that the concept of ecological sensibility is a difficult one to measure because it is very abstract. But, without any kind of proof, I found it difficult to fully accept his claim. However, this does not mean that I rejected Wapner’s argument that creating ecological sensibility is the first step to creating political action on environmental issues.
The second part of Wapner’s article talks about the concept of bearing witness. According to the Quakers, bearing witness asks citizens who witness an immoral act to become politically active. Whaples summarizes this concept by stating that, ” having observed a morally objectionable act, one cannot turn away in avoidance. One must either take action to prevent further injustice or stand by and attest to its occurrence” (Lechner and Boli 147). Wapner moves on to talk about how, in this new era of globalization, Greenpeace has used media as a channel to facilitate the act of bearing witness. For example, Greenpeace acquires footage of whaling expeditions, ocean dumping of nuclear wastes, etc and airs them on television and other media channels so that citizens all over the world can become aware of the environmental injustices occurring around them.
In modern times, especially in the U.S., the average citizen is likely to be confronted with hundreds if not thousands of media images or clips each day. Some of these media images are about issues that can be classified as morally objectionable. Imagine an tv advertisement that urges viewers to donate to a non profit charity that helps starving children in Africa or poor slum kids in India. These media clips are often emotionally provoking and one can argue that they are forcing us to bear witness to this issue of hunger and poverty. But, since we are confronted with dozens of similar ads over the course of the day, we forget about a particular cause. Or, in some cases, because we are exposed to numerous pleas for money, we become desensitized to images of these children. In this case, the goal of of increased sensibility may not be accomplished.
In today world, simply being a witness to an environmental “crime” through a YouTube clip or a television advertisement might not produce a change in an individual’s ecological sensibility. Although the clip may provoke an emotional response in the individual, it will fade quickly because he or she will soon be exposed to other emotionally provoking video clips over the course of the day. How does Greenpeace overcome this particular obstacle? How do they successfully navigate today’s media environment?