Benet Northcote and Greenpeace

Rank Fellow Benet Northcote has a background in business development, communications, politics and environmental issues. He was appointed Chief Policy Adviser of Greenpeace in April 2007. We asked him some questions about his new role.

What in your background has been particularly helpful in your new post at Greenpeace?

My job is mostly about lobbying senior politicians and business people. I have been working with the Conservative Party developing environmental policies for a number of years. The only difference here is that I talk to Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist politicians too. I have also worked in journalism and corporate communications, all skills I use now.

What has surprised you since you moved to Greenpeace?

The people! Greenpeace is filled with very lots of highly intelligent and deeply motivated individuals. Pretty much everyone you meet is a free-thinker who is not afraid of hard work.

How much of Greenpeace's current focus is on climate change?

The vast majority of our work is on climate change. But that is a battle that must be fought on many fronts. So it means we concentrate on issues as diverse as energy policy and nuclear power, through to deforestation and soya production in the Amazon. At the heart of all our work is the concept of positive solutions. It is not just about saying no! Instead we prefer to say: "not that, why don't you do this?!

What other areas is Greenpeace particularly concerned about?

The other big area is our oceans campaign, and the threat to many species of fish from over-fishing. A terrifying proportion of our oceans are over-fished with stocks in a perilous state of decline. If we farmed in the same way as we fish, the UK countryside would be a dustbowl. Think about that next time you buy your fish and chips!

Who does Greenpeace plan to lobby politically (and how?)?

Greenpeace is politically neutral but we do want to influence our political leaders and the wider policy debate. That means we see senior politicians from all parties. Often we try to form a cross party alliances (for example on illegal logging). We also talk to Government ministers, their special advisers and civil servants on specific legislation and consultations.

How might Greenpeace persuade people in this country to change their way of life?

I think once people understand the impacts of man made climate change they have no problem with changing their behaviour, whether it is recycling more, changing to energy efficient light bulbs or making sure you take your TV off standby mode. Often people feel powerless to do anything, but if everyone in the UK used efficient light bulbs then we could close two power stations. Of course, the biggest thing most of us can do to reduce our CO2 footprint is to take fewer flights.

How is Greenpeace funded?

Greenpeace is fiercely proud of its independence. We only accept financial support from individuals and not from any companies. We will even send back cheques if it looks like they are from a corporate account.

Does Greenpeace still believe in direct action?

Yes. There is a long tradition in democracy of peaceful non-violent direct action on important issues. Think about the suffragettes. Greenpeace uses direct action to bear witness to environmental abuses and to help change perceptions. It might infuriate businesses and Governments today, but that is no reason not to use it to draw attention to something you believe is critically important.

How well does Greenpeace harness the energy and idealism of young people?

Well, climate change is an issue that affects every one of all ages; we are seeing the effects of increased temperatures around the world right now. The truth is that our supporters range from retired businessmen, through to enthusiastic students.

What support can the Rank Fellowship provide?

I have already been put in touch with a number of Rank Fellows who work on environmental issues. It is good to have a network to turn to for advice or support in what can be a very complicated subject!

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