Lessons in leadership from the birth of modern environmentalism
In 1971, Robert “Bob” Hunter, Paul Watson and a group of young activists chartered a small fishing boat and sailed from Vancouver, Canada, to the middle of Nixon’s nuclear bomb testing site in Amchitka, Alaska, in the middle of the Vietnam War. Despite their protests, the tests proceeded, but not before the activists could send a message to the world about the power of an idea — and the power of a camera to spread it. The history-defining potential and necessity of such “mind bombs” reveals its timeless relevance in the award-winning documentary, How to Change the World.
“The important part was the realization that a small group of individuals can make an impact...You can change the world more effectively with a camera than a gun.”
- Captain Paul Watson
Directed by Jerry Rothwell, the film chronicles the evolution of Greenpeace through interviews with its early members and dramatic, often heartbreaking footage from the organization’s unseen archives. Structured by the "5 rules of engagement" from the late Hunter’s writings, the story provides a roadmap for demanding, inspiring and, most importantly, actually implementing change.
1. Plant a mind bomb.
Every social movement in the history of humankind has started with an idea, a question, and a group of people with the courage to stand up for the answer they hold to be just and true.
2. Put your body where your mouth is.
Simply put: actions speak louder than words. There’s a big difference between bearing witness and physically planting your body between a harpoon and a whale, as demonstrated time and time again by Captain Paul Watson. There’s an even bigger difference when you capture the whole ordeal on camera.
3. The revolution will not be organized.
Social revolutions are driven by societal impulses and tipping points — things we can shape and inspire, if not always predict and control. As a result, activism tends to be messy (read: disruptive) work.
4. Fear success.
The path from grassroots to mainstream is paved with conflict, tension, pressure, ambitious goals and divided beliefs as to the best methods for achieving them. Growing pains are inevitable. Only those who can look to, and learn from, the past will succeed.
5. Let the power go.
A movement can only go as far as its members. Heroes may often fail, but their stories continue in the mind bombs they initiate and inspire. True leadership demands more than vision; it requires the humility and foresight to know when to take charge and when to let go.
"Don't judge me by my words which are many, but by my actions, which are few. Because if we wait for the meek to inherit the earth there won't be anything left to inherit."
- Bob Hunter
It doesn’t take the entire population to alter the course of human history. It takes an idea, a mind bomb, imagination, courage — and it all starts with a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. There’s a reason well-meaning people often quote Margaret Mead; she was right. It is exactly this kind of passion and purpose that has molded every social movement in the history of humankind. There is no step-by-step guide for re-charting humanity's course. To change the world, you need to care enough to try.
How to Change the World is as much about what is means to be human as it is about the birth of an organization and modern environmentalism. As Captain Paul Watson explains in the film, this isn’t just about one group’s dedication to defending whales, seals and wildlife, nor is it about the conflicts that came to divide the group along the way. "It’s about inspiring a new way for people to contribute to, and continue living on, this planet."
Whatever your environmental philosophy, there's a lesson for you in this film.
Learn more about How to Change the World.
The film premiered April 13, 2016, in the US. More on how to watch it here.