This year’s Robert Hunter Memorial Lecture came full circle. Every year we celebrate Bob’s life and legacy at the University of Toronto where students who excel in their studies on climate change are given a scholarship in his name. This year, we brought in a new speaker and philosopher, Thomas Hart to share Hunter’s “mind bomb” message to a crowd of hundred young and old, friends and strangers. Getting some media attention for the lecture series, Toronto Star reporter Marco Oved published the following article:
— Article published on the TorontoStar.com —
Environmentalist used “mind bombs” to create change
By Marco Chown Oved
Whether it was by attempting to sail into an atomic blast area, putting himself between a harpoon and a whale, or turning his back on an icebreaker and willing it to stop in its tracks, Bob Hunter shocked the world into action on environmental protection.
Images of his exploits went viral in an analog age. The first president of Greenpeace called them “mind bombs” that jostled people out of complacency and opened their eyes to the bigger picture. If he were alive today, Hunter would say the world needs another mind bomb to combat climate change.
Hunter’s legacy was on display this week at the 10th annual Bob Hunter memorial lecture at the University of Toronto, where philosophy professor Thomas Hart focused not so much on his exploits but on the thinking behind them.
Hunter wanted nothing less than a revolution in consciousness, Hart said, to get people to stop worrying about their cars, their jobs and taxes, and start thinking about the future of our planet and the human race.
“He would start every one of his lectures the same way — by walking up to a member of the audience, shoving a microphone in their face and saying, ‘What do you want to say to the future?’ ” Hart said.
While he never met the self-styled “eco s—t disturber,” after reading every one of the 13 books penned by Hunter, Hart says his life will never be the same.
“Academics tend to look at things in a fragmented way and I’ve come to realize that’s the worst possible way to get these ideas across,” he said. “As Hunter said: ‘We need to think big. Very big.’ ”
Ranging from novels to journalistic accounts of the early days of Greenpeace to quasi-Buddhist philosophy, Hart says that in a world of climate change (or climate catastrophe, as Hunter wanted it to be called), war and oilsands, Hunter’s oeuvre is more relevant than ever.
In an auditorium in the basement of U of T’s environmental science building, Hart spoke to a diverse crowd that included both students with hipster haircuts and seniors with grey ponytails.
Peppering the lecture with pithy quotes like “the mind may not move mountains, but it can stop ships” or “nature has a problem and that problem happens to be us,” Hart emphasized that Hunter was far more than an environmentalist cowboy, something recognized by the scholarships now given out to two environmental science students in his honour every year.
“If you look at his career, he moved up the food chain, from nuclear bombs to seals to people,” Hart said. “In the end, he decided what was really important is how we treat each other.”
Often remembered as a bearded hippie in a bathrobe, snarkily criticizing the news in a daily segment on CityTV’s Breakfast Television, Hunter was really the first counterculture journalist in Canada, Hart said. “Unfortunately, he was also the last.”
After setting sail with the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee,” that eventually led to a ban on American nuclear testing in Alaska, Hunter embarked on a career that took him on missions to confront Russian whalers (prompting an international moratorium on whaling) and Newfoundland sealers. He helped found the world’s first and most prominent conservation organization, Greenpeace, and pioneered their media-savvy strategy that made their issues unavoidable.
Even though Hunter said “there are no heroes, only opportunities,” the lecture’s organizers decided to launch the hashtag #EcoHeroHunter to revive his legacy online.
Hunter’s daughter, Emily, who has followed in her father’s footsteps to become an environmental journalist-activist, wants the anniversary of his death on May 2 to spark a Bob Hunter renaissance.
In August 2006, then premier Dalton McGuinty officially opened a new 200-hectare park in Markham dedicated Hunter. The Bob Hunter Memorial Park added a huge swath of environmentally sensitive land to Rouge Park.
The next step is a documentary about his life, which will premiere at HotDocs this month. Following that, the family is planning to launch BobHunter.org as a hub for environmental activism and aboriginal rights.
“This is the beginning of the reawakening of the mind bomb,” said Hart.
In a world where people are bombarded by non-stop online noise, truly effective mind bombs will be harder than ever create. But as weather continues to wreak havoc on countries around the world, images of extreme climate change are proliferating and, Hart says, “people need to start paying attention.”