Showcasing Leadership in the Environmental Movement

How about this for an actual job ad:

  • Job description: No pay, long hours, hard work, dangerous conditions, extreme weather.
  • Warning: No whiners, malcontents, mattress lovers, or wimps need apply.
  • Guaranteed: Adventure, fulfillment, and the hardest work you will ever love. The experience of a lifetime.

How about if I told you that the organization that posts this has a very long line of applicants? No “labour crisis” here…

In this post I want to showcase the organization that posted it (Sea Shepherd) and its founder and leader (Paul Watson), as a way of illustrating what can be learned from leadership in the environmental movement.

The context

The obstacles faced by the environmental movement are immense, to put things mildly.  The motivation to destroy the natural world is fueled by material greed and a steadily climbing human population that now exceeds 7.5 billion.

Governments are generally onboard, driving for economic growth (and often population growth) irrespective of the environmental impact and by writing autocratic laws to maintain the status quo.  Very Canadian examples of the latter include the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the “Seal Protection Act” that criminalizes filming of the annual Canadian seal hunt.

Worse still are the murders – thousands of environmentalists lose their lives each year defending nature.  Meanwhile, not a single region on earth remains unaffected by some type of human encroachment or pollution, and it is widely believed that we are in the midst of a great extinction – this time human caused.

Motivated people in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds – let that sink in for a moment.

Showcasing Sea Shepherd

Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization.  Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.  Sea Shepherd was founded by Paul Watson (a Toronto native) and is often best known for its Antarctic whale defense campaigns against Japan that took place until ruled illegal by a US court in 2012 (even though the whaling itself is illegal, and continues to this day).

Here are 5 leadership qualities you will find in abundance at Sea Shepherd that continue to help motivate its volunteers and donors alike:

Courage: On the recent Operation Milagro, a joint operation with the Mexican navy to protect the vaquita porpoise from extinction, the crew have received death threats and have even been shot at. They stayed and continued the mission of removing illegal fishing nets.  All crew members know that their lives could be on the line.

Role modeling: All Sea Shepherd crew eat a strictly vegan diet. While they risk their lives to protect marine animals, they do not do so while causing the suffering of others.

Vision: No fancy vision statements here – Sea Shepherd is driven by a simple vision that “All marine wildlife and the ecosystems in which they live are worth fighting for” – plain and simple. Environmentalism is the prioritization of the future over the present.

Communication: If you go on the Sea Shepherd Facebook page, you will see magnificent fin whales being butchered in Iceland, often on livestream filmed by Sea Shepherd, their unborn calves thrown away like trash.  By bringing the stories of individual animals and their individual protectors into living rooms, computer and phone screens worldwide, the organization helps ensure that the problems are not kept out of sight and out of mind.

Perseverance: Notwithstanding setbacks that have included having a ship sliced in half by a Japanese whaling boat in freezing Antarctic conditions and laws passed worldwide specifically against Sea Shepherd to maintain the status quo of ocean wildlife slaughter, the organization soldiers on – a thin red line between wholesale destruction and what is most precious here on earth.  Sea Shepherd volunteers know that success will only come when humanity collectively understands its place in nature.

Sea Shepherd is one of Kwela’s 3 beneficiaries of its 1% plan.

Russel Horwitz, Principal