Top eco-campaigner says Scotland is “perfect” for green revolution

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By Rory Reynolds

AN eco-warrior who grew up on a tough Scots housing estate is helping lead the bid for action over climate change.

Mike Townsley once had a steady office job and maths degree – but threw it all in to join Greenpeace to sail the seven seas saving the planet.

The former self-confessed tearaway from Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, rose through the ranks to become Greenpeace International’s head of news and deputy director of communications.

Mike – who trained to be a mathematician at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh – had his eye on the “fabulous sums of money” that a top-end office job might bring.

But after dabbling in journalism and working as a staff writer for The Scotsman, specialising in the environment, he realised his real calling was in campaigning.

He was snapped up by Greenpeace, who quickly found that his sense of humour could be put to good use embarrassing politicians and lawmakers around the world.

And along the way he has:

– been imprisoned in the far east

– sneaked into Iraq with anti-radiation gear

– been harassed by police, coastguard and pirates across the globe

– sneaked into a nuclear waste plant in the Ural mountains

– dumped radioactive waste on the Russian parliament’s doorstep

But now the 45-year-old dad of twins has come full circle, arguing that only the green block persuaded Barack Obama to take part in the summit, which will take place over the next two weeks.

Mike – who trained to be a mathematician at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh – says he had his eye on the “fabulous sums of money” that a top-end office job might bring.

But after dabbling in journalism and working as a staff writer for The Scotsman, specialising in the environment, he realised his real calling was in campaigning.

He was snapped up by Greenpeace, who quickly found that his sense of humour could be put to good use embarrassing politicians and lawmakers around the world.

He said: “Not long after I joined I did one of my first ever ‘actions’, as we call them, at the Duma, Russia’s parliament in Moscow – it probably wasn’t the wisest move in the world.

“They wanted to increase the production at the Mayak nuclear plant, which is a huge nuclear dump in the Ural mountains.

“We took some samples of radioactive soil, took it to Moscow, and dumped it on the steps of the parliament.

“Needless to say most of those going in chose to use the side entrance that day.

“If wouldn’t even walk over it, what chance to people who live in it have?”

Joining the campaign group in the late 1990’s Mike found himself caught up in increasingly ambitious schemes, including the drive against the US’s Star Wars programme.

He said: “I sailed in the Rainbow Warrior to the Marshall Islands, which is part of the Star Wars project.

“It was a three month voyage to the Pacific.

“The US did missile tests from Vandenberg in California, to the Marshall Islands.

“For my sins, I did a direct action on Kwajalein Island which is owned and operated by groups like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

“We came from the Rainbow Warrior in inflatables and jumped off with our banners, which said ‘just say no’ – it was at the time of that drugs campaign.

Harmful Radiation

“I think I spent around seven seconds on that beach before I was seized.

“And I spent the next month in a jail there – I wouldn’t recommend third world prisons.”

Later campaigns included visiting Iraq after the fall of Saddam, where Greenpeace discovered that a 26 square kilometer chemical plant had been left unattended for months after the invasion.

But he said that telling the local population that their school was a hotbed of harmful radiation for their young pupils, was among the most difficult things he has had to do.

He said: “That was easily one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life.

“I was shocked that these beautiful little children, smartly dressed in uniforms, despite the fact they had nothing, were walking through the front of their school, which was laden with this substance.

“If it had been outside a Scottish school it would have been shut for months – the whole area would be.”

But Mike had his first taste of success as he persuaded the US military to clean-up the area, which had been covered in yellowcake, a chemical used in the nuclear process.

With the days of ‘direct action’ more or less behind him, and with a young wife and family back in Amsterdam, Greenpeace’s HQ, Mike now handles publicity and political campaigning for the global organisation.

Spending two weeks in the Danish capital, which will be home to 100 world leaders for the next fortnight, Mike will witness first-hand the political wrangling, trade-offs and gestures, possibly ending in failure.

But Mike says he is quietly confidence about the possibility of success.

He said: “If you asked me just one year ago what changes there would be would be, I would have said very few.

“But Barack Obama has changed his plans to attend the summit.

“He was going to come on the 9th for a photo opp, then fly off to the Nobel peace prize in Oslo and then jet back home to the States.

“But Greenpeace and the groups with work with, said Copenhagen is not a flyby photo opportunity, it’s about getting a global agreement to stop climate chaos.

“And we said President Obama needs to be there at the same time as all the other world leaders.

“Just the other day he changed his plans, I’m not saying that was just us that changed his mind but he can’t ignore green movements now.

“And we wouldn’t have been that two years, or even one year ago, the environmental lobby is too big to ignore, and there is too much at stake to ignore as well.

“Will we get a deal at the end of the two weeks? Probably not. But you will have the issue at the top of the agenda.

“Right up there with the financial crisis and security issues.

“This is one of the defining moments of the century. If they are real leaders then they will make real change.

“All they need is the courage and the will and something just might happen.”

And Mike says that far from being a selfless idealist, he has his own personal stake in pushing for climate change.

He said: “The thing about climate change is the magnitude is so big that a lot of people do look away.

“But the consequences of inaction will be dire in our lifetime, especially in the life time of my two beautiful 2-year-old twins.

“If we do nothing we are facing a society changing event in a few decades.

“Two weeks in Copenhagen might not seem like much of a Christmas, but something just might happen that makes it all worthwhile, just maybe.”

One thing Mike says he is sure about is that his native Scotland will one day take leading role in saving the planet.

He hopes to return one day to find tens of thousands of Scots working in the green industry fuelled by Scotland’s natural resources.

And he insists it’s not a dream.

He said: “In terms of wind Scotland is one of the best places in Europe, it’s extraordinary.

“And wave power can make Scotland self-sufficient, bringing many jobs with it.

“For a green revolution – it’s perfect.”

See more of our pictures at our Flickr site and videos at our dedicated channel,  Deadline TV.

AN eco-warrior who grew up on a tough Scots housing estate is helping lead the bid for action over climate change.

Mike Townsley once had a steady office job and math degree – but threw it all in to join Greenpeace to sail the seven seas saving the planet.

The former self-confessed tearaway from Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, rose through the ranks to become Greenpeace International’s head of news and deputy director of communications.

Mike – who trained to be a mathematician at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh – had his eye on the “fabulous sums of money” that a top-end office job might bring.

But after dabbling in journalism and working as a staff writer for The Scotsman, specialising in the environment, he realised his real calling was in campaigning.

He was snapped up by Greenpeace, who quickly found that his sense of humour could be put to good use embarrassing politicians and lawmakers around the world.

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