Greenpeace International Founder Dies in Car Crash 

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands, March 23, 2001 (ENS) - One of the most influential figures in the environmental movement, the man widely credited with the first campaign to save whales and to end French nuclear testing, David McTaggart died in a head on car crash near his home in Umbria, Italy, this morning.

When news reached Greenpeace International headquarters in Amsterdam this morning, tributes were quick to follow from leaders of the group he helped to found.

David McTaggart. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace/Geier 1996)

"We are all deeply shocked by this news," said interim International Executive Director Gerd Leipold. "Greenpeace would not be what it is today without his amazing force behind it."

"Greenpeace would be unthinkable without his force of personality. He built up the organization into the international pressure group it is today, opening offices in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, when no one believed it possible.

"Not only is he a great loss to Greenpeace, but also to the environmental movement worldwide," added Leipold.

"David had an amazing life, he shook the world," said Peter Tabuns, executive director of Greenpeace Canada. "He fought to protect all of us from the nuclear threat - no one did more."

In a testimonial to McTaggart, Greenpeace described the 68 year old as "relentless," "controversial," and "a thorn in the side of entire governments and corporations."

"He bears sole credit for unifying a group of internally warring hippies into an international environmental force, and the lion's share of the credit for Greenpeace's successful campaigns to preserve Antarctica from oil exploitation and to halt commercial whaling," it continued.

"He stood as a living example of the difference an individual can make, from his defiance of a nuclear weapons blast from the deck of his tiny and beloved sailing ship, Vega, to his steadfast refusal to accept that any odds were too great, or that any challenge was too big.

"He had the guts to make saving the planet his personal mission, the charisma to inspire others to that task, and the strategic savvy to make you think he just might pull it off.

David McTaggart on board Vega in 1981. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

"The world will never see another one of him."

Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1932, McTaggart ran a successful construction business for 20 years before sailing into a new life of environmental action that began in the South Pacific in 1971.

So outraged was McTaggart at the French government's decision to cordon off international waters in order to conduct nuclear testing, he renamed his 12.6 meter sailing craft "Greenpeace III" and sailed to the zone surrounding Muroroa Atoll.

Dropping anchor downwind from the planned blast, McTaggart forced the French government to halt its test. A French Navy vessel rammed "Greenpeace III" but McTaggart repaired his boat and returned a year later.

On that occasion he was beaten by French military personnel, with the incident captured on camera by a crewmate. The photos helped McTaggart win part of a lengthy court case against the French in 1974, the same year, the French government announced that it would end its atmospheric nuclear testing program.

In 1977, McTaggart began organizing support throughout Europe for Greenpeace, by then established in more than a dozen countries. In 1979 he united factions of the organization under his chairmanship as Greenpeace International.

Between 1975 and 1991, McTaggart led Greenpeace campaigns to save the whales, stop the dumping of nuclear waste in the ocean, block the production of toxic wastes, end nuclear testing, and protect the Antarctic continent from oil and mineral exploitation.

He published numerous articles and two books. Awards for his contributions to environmentalism worldwide include the Onassis Award, The Kreisky Prize, and the United Nations Environmental Programme's Global 500 Award.

David McTaggart (right) with Chris Robinson and Henk Haazen (left) sailing to Muroroa Atoll in 1995. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace/Morgan)

In September 1991, McTaggart retired from active chairmanship of Greenpeace International to a farm in Italy, where he raised organic olive oil and continued to work on whaling and other issues through his own foundation.

"He pushed the organization hard, and the organization pushed back hard," said a Greenpeace International statement.

"Some of his closest colleagues will still describe him as a cold hearted bastard, and when David retired from active leadership of the organization in 1991, there were those who breathed a sigh of relief.

"Many believed the organization had outgrown his leadership, and that the skills of a ragtag pirate leader were simply no longer a match to an organization that had grown so large so fast.

"But one thing Greenpeace will never outgrow was David's extraordinary spirit."

Another driver was killed in this mornings accident and a female passenger injured.