Greenpeace ship brings message opposing dirty coal to St. Pete

02/27/12 Janelle Irwin
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A brand new ship built for Greenpeace with sustainability in mind stopped off in St. Petersburg this weekend. The crew of the Rainbow Warrior III is on their maiden voyage to Rio de Janeiro to combat environmental crimes like illegal timber harvesting in the Amazon. But during their stay at the Port of St. Petersburg, Greenpeace spokesperson David Pomerantz welcomed visitors to tour the ship and learn about a campaign to compel Progress Energy to stop burning coal.

“We’d like to see them live up to their name, actually make true progress and switch to clean energy technologies like wind and solar power.”

Progress Energy is attempting a merger with Duke Energy. If that happens they would become the nation’s biggest energy company. That’s why Pomerantz said St. Pete was an important stop for the campaign against coal. He added it’s also an opportunity to educate residents on the issue in a place where many people in the area are Progress Energy customers.

“Not just about Greenpeace, but the issues that are affecting them and the planet, about where they’re getting their energy from, about our new campaign against Progress Energy and Duke Energy and how those companies can become better citizens and switch to clean energy too.”

One of the problems associated with coal burning power plants is mercury emissions. Left unchecked, the mercury can seep into waterways and contaminate fish many people eat. But pushing clean energy isn’t all the new ship’s crew is doing. Pomerantz said it is one of three Greenpeace vessels that are used to stop illegal whaling and over-fishing. He added, even though Greenpeace members don’t have the authority to enforce laws they can make sure crimes are reported.

“A lot of what we do is something called bearing witness, that’s how we talk about it at Greenpeace. Trying to go to a place where environmental crimes are happening and make sure the world knows about it. So, trying to do everything we can to stop the overfishing from happening, to stop the barge carrying illegally harvested timber down the Amazon, to try to stop those things. But, even more important is we are getting out there with video cameras, with photographers, with technology so we can show what is happening to the world.”

The tours drew crowds of more than 1,000 people and left many waiting in long lines to see what the ship was like. Ryan Sutherland is a Senior at St. Pete High School, a member of Amnesty International and an aspiring biologist. As he waited to climb aboard, he said a lot of his beliefs fall in line with those of Greenpeace.

“I think that the global ecosystem is totally connected with every part, even the marine and the terrestrial. When you think about the rates of fishing that are going on right now. It’s just astronomically higher than it was before. So, I’m definitely interested in seeing how they’re going to combat that by stopping whaling, stopping fisheries that are really depleting the ocean’s resources.”

But not everyone agreed with their mission. Ed Silva is a seasonal Floridian from Massachusetts. He’s also an avid games-man. He said he thinks Greenpeace members take environmental issues to the extreme.

“Eskimos have been harvesting seals; whales, the Japanese for years and years and there’s a controlled balance. I would be against if you harvest everything and cleaned everything out, that’s not what I’m saying. But, there’s limits what they can hunt. There’s regulations and I don’t see nothing wrong with them. I mean, there animals. That’s what they’re put on this earth for is feeding us, clothing us.”

The Greenpeace website describes the group as a direct action organization, but spokesperson David Pomerantz said the new ship that was custom built in Holland is one example of how the environmental group can also lead by example.

“When it’s under sail, it uses no fuel. So, it’s great for Greenpeace to really practice what we’re preaching where it’s as environmentally friendly and sustainable a ship as you’ll find out there.”

There were two previous Rainbow Warrior ships. The first was sunk in 1985 by the French government while those on board protested nuclear testing. The second ship was retired and donated last year. Greenpeace also has two other ships that are used for similar campaigns.

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