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Greenpeace went too far when activists from the group defaced an ancient Peruvian landmark known as the Nazca lines earlier this month, and, for the sake of the environmental causes that the group supports, it must now cooperate fully with the investigation into the vandalism. By showing such reckless disregard for Peru’s culture and history, Greenpeace lent legitimacy to one of the worst accusations that environmentalists face — that they’re insensitive to developing countries.

The Nazca lines are mysterious relics, a series of gigantic images called geoglyphs up to 900 feet long that can be seen from above. They are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, and are listed as a United Nations world heritage site. But the images are fragile, and some have been partially destroyed. The hummingbird was one of the most iconic of the images — and one of the best preserved.

Not anymore. On Dec. 8, a group of activists, apparently led by a German academic, snuck onto the protected area around the hummingbird and put up a giant sign made out of cloth letters to call attention to renewable energy. The message was aimed at delegates at the recent climate conference in nearby Lima — a group that was, virtually by definition, already paying attention to the environment. Although the activists removed the letters, the remains of the “c” in Greenpeace are now visible from above. According to Peruvian officials, there are no restoration techniques to fix the damage, and it may take centuries to fade on its own.

Amid the uproar in Peru, Greenpeace apologized and initially promised to cooperate, but since then the group has apparently backtracked, and declined to provide the names of the activists involved. That arrogant attitude only reinforces the impression created by their decision to deface the site in the first place.

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The controversy in Peru is all the more shameful because one of the main goals of the climate conference was to bring more developing countries on board for carbon reduction efforts. That has always been a delicate task, since poorer countries often bristle at wealthy nations lecturing them about emissions. Unfortunately, by flying in European activists to vandalize a symbol of Peru, Greenpeace just reinforced all the worst caricatures that have caused developing countries to view environmentalists — and their causes — with suspicion.

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