New leader takes reins of Greenpeace

Associated Press / November 17, 2009

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JOHANNESBURG - An African took over as director of Greenpeace yesterday, bringing experience honed as a teenage opponent of white rule in South Africa and a network of powerful contacts to the battle against global warming.

Kumi Naidoo, 44, the new director, said he had much to learn about the group’s current agenda. But he has already grasped the issues around global warming, an overriding concern of environmental groups.

“We either get it right and all of humanity comes out on the other side with a new world,’’ Naidoo said before he took the Greenpeace helm. “Or we get it wrong and all the world is going to sink.’’

Greenpeace was founded 38 years ago by activists who wanted to stop the United States from conducting underground nuclear tests in a region off Alaska that harbored endangered sea otters.

Gerd Leipold, his predecessor at Greenpeace, said Naidoo’s appointment is a watershed, both because he is the first African and because he is the first executive director to come from outside the organization.

After battling apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, Naidoo led global campaigns to end poverty and protect human rights. Recently, he has led the Global Campaign for Climate Action, which brings together environmental, aid, religious, and human rights groups, unions, scientists, and others and has organized mass demonstrations around climate negotiations.