Two of the founding Greenpeace members Bill Darnell (left)

Two of the founding Greenpeace members Bill Darnell (left)

Greenpeace founder calls Vernon home

Vernon's own Bill Darnell came up with the name Greenpeace 40 years ago

A name that, for the past 40 years, has represented efforts to establish a green and peaceful future, is actually thanks to a Vernon man.

Greenpeace was born on Sept. 15, 1971 in Vancouver – nearly 40 years ago to the day.

The small group of activists, historically known as the Don’t Make A Wave Committee, included Bill Darnell, who is now a Vernon resident.

The name was unearthed during a meeting where the group discussed plans to set sail to Amchitka in protest of the U.S. government testing nuclear war heads.

When member Irving Stowe left the meeting he flashed his custom ‘V’ sign with his fingers and said “Peace.”

Although he rarely said much at the meetings, Darnell suddenly spoke up: “Make it a green peace.”

Those two magical words did not leave Stowe’s mind, and other members felt the name fused together two of the most urgent movements. Another member, a journalist, added that Greenpeace would fit better in a headline than the Don’t Make a Wave Committee. While others began to name the Amchitka-destined ship Greenpeace.

The name stuck, and 40 years later the group has grown to become the world’s largest, independent environmental organization.

When he looks back on their historic six-week voyage to Amchitka, Darnell admits they had no idea what or if they would accomplish anything.

“Here’s these 12 guys in this 85-foot boat going to take on the U.S. military. We didn’t know what was going to happen and we weren’t sailors, we were mostly throwing up,” said Darnell, who was the cook of the ship, so when he was sick everyone ate peanut butter sandwiches.

Even though the ill-stomached crew was not successful in reaching their destination, their efforts became wildly known and reported in the media.

Protests began to pop up around B.C. In Vancouver, 10,000 students walked Georgia Street to the U.S. consulate. Even Vernon youth were inspired to rally and hundreds turned out at 30th Ave. and 32nd St. to blast Amchitka (reported in the Nov. 4, 1971 edition of the Vernon News).

“So we really touched a chord with people,” said 65-year-old Darnell. “What we were doing gave permission and encouragement for people to do what they need to in their community.

“We kind of inspired them, maybe unleashed them.”

Darnell moved to Vernon in 1997 and has taught at alternative programs such as Open Door, Six Mile and Crossroads. Although he is now retired he still tutors and makes Greenpeace presentations at schools. He is also involved in a local group, called Vernon in Transition, aimed at connecting different groups (from the Ribbons of Green Trail Society to the Food Action Society) and making positive changes where needed.

He is impressed with the youth of today, as well as those who were inspired enough to stand up back in 1971.

While we no longer have to protest nuclear war head testing, Darnell says, more substantial efforts are needed today – to fight climate change.

“It’s a more difficult thing to wrestle with. It’s not them and us, it’s us. We can’t point fingers…we have to change.”

Sitting in his small, green-themed home featuring wheat cabinets, zero carpets or vinyl (which release toxic gases), recycled materials and a green roof, Darnell is a living example of change.

From his home to his transportation (he bikes almost everywhere), he tries his best to make the necessary choices to reduce greenhouse gases.

And while not everyone has adopted the same green habits, he is optimistic that the trend will catch on as more people turn off their blinders to the situation of climate change.

Darnell is currently in Vancouver as the city proclaims Sept. 15 Greenpeace Day and members, young and old, celebrate the past 40 years of accomplishments.

There will also be a Rainbow Warrior Festival at Vancouver’s Jericho Beach Saturday to mark the occasion.