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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.
It seems fitting for this post to follow my review of Big Miracle, the film account of the rescue of three grey whales off Barrow, Alaska, up above the Arctic Circle. The conditions portrayed in the film were harsh, incredibly cold, and unrelenting. Once the ice starts and thickens, it’s there for the long haul. Getting through it or away from it is extremely difficult. And anyone who has ever watched one of those extreme fishing shows, like Deadliest Catch, knows how violent, unpredictable, and quickly changing the conditions can be in open water.
So why, then, is Shell leading the charge to do offshore drilling up in that part of the world? And why are we still clinging so tightly to oil/fossil fuels that we choose to turn our eyes away and just let it happen, rather than rising up en masse and demanding clean/green energy developments that can save our planet now, before it is too late?
Fortunately, not everyone is sitting still for it. Recently, seven activists from Greenpeace New Zealand, including actress Lucy Lawless (Xena, Spartacus), scaled a 53 meter tower on the Noble Discoverer, a drilling ship in port in New Zealand but scheduled to head up to the Arctic to do exploratory off shore drilling, hired by Shell. The GNZ occupiers had enough supplies to last about a week, and determination to stick it out for as long as possible. And, largely thanks to Lucy, they attracted worldwide attention to a ship and a mission that would likely never have made a blip on the radar outside of New Zealand.
It’s not unusual or out of bounds to feel dubious about any action where a celebrity is involved. Cynics who have railed about this as a PR stunt for Lucy Lawless are simply not paying attention. Would the world have noticed if it was “just” seven Greenpeace volunteers? Not nearly as much. But Lucy did not do this for her entertainment profile. She has the courage of her convictions, more than many. Lucy’s own words explain how her involvement came about and why. This was not about a TV show or movie; this was about survival, and leaving a better planet for the next generation than what we’re experiencing now. But she also knows she has a public profile, and that she is using it to raise awareness about something which should matter to every single one of us is admirable, I believe.
I have never understood why oil companies are not on the forefront of clean/green energy development. Oil is a finite resource. It simply is. All fossil fuels are. That we need to find increasingly dangerous and destructive methods of ‘extraction’, like tar sands oil and hydrofracking for natural gas, shows how desperation pushes us into bad moves. We don’t have to wait for evidence of how destructive these methods have become. We’ve already seen toxic coal ash lake spills (Lake Michigan in 2011 – I didn’t even remember hearing about this one! – and Tennessee in 2008), natural gas infiltrating drinking water supplies in Pennsylvania, and plans in Canada to kill wolves for better access to tar sands. (There are many stories on line about all of these issues. A romp through Google will give you much to read.) These are signs of a world gone mad.
When I see those great big oil spills, like what happened in the Gulf of Mexico with Deepwater Horizon, I think not only about the massive damage to wildlife and the ecosystems, but about all of that lost oil, that valuable black gold, which is now completely lost, and regarded as such with a shrug and ‘business as usual’ approach by oil companies. There are new reports out every week about the ongoing impact that the oil spill has had on marine life in the Gulf. Recent stories have appeared in the New York Times, Voice of America, Nola.com, and Physorg.com. This is an ongoing crisis. The well may no longer be gushing, but we will be discovering and learning about the devastating effects for years. And this was a spill that took place in relatively easily accessible waters, under mostly hospitable weather conditions. A far cry from the harsh Arctic.
Shell has reportedly already spent $4 BILLION on prep for Arctic drilling. Just think about how much green energy R&D could have been accomplished with those same funds. Then, instead of having protestors climbing the towers of rusty drilling ships, Shell could be hailed as an industry leader, trendsetter, and be poised to revolutionize energy while staying profitably in business. It’s like the oil baron of Big Miracle, who decides to get involved to pretty up the PR image. Cynical, certainly, but does that matter if we all win in the end? I’m not against profit. I am against profit at the expense of the rest of us, which is what unbridled exploration for and use of fossil fuels gets us.
Oh, and their grand plan for detection of oil spills in under the (diminishing but still…) vast Arctic ice? Three small dogs, a dachsund and two border collies. You read that right. Shell has trained three small dogs to sniff out oil under an expanse of ice that cannot be properly predicted given the conditions up there. Setting aside the total absurdity of this plan, there are doubts that a small dog could sniff through thick ice. AND they have the audacity to file preemptive lawsuits against environmental organizations like The Sierra Club and Greenpeace, trying to prevent them from standing up against this needless, reckless drilling, doing so at rather great risk. Somehow Shell thinks that stopping protests from organizations from using the legal system to protect our planet will just allow them to continue on unhindered. Which is what makes a small but visible protest like the one in New Zealand all the more important.
There’s also now a very serious potential problem in the North Sea near Scotland (read the story at Mother Jones), where a well is leaking methane gas to the point of creating a critical massive explosion risk. All workers have been evacuated, but a burn off flame was left on which means it might not take much for that explosion to occur. And, the gas that is leaking is “sour gas“, which includes hydrogen sulphide. This is toxic to ALL marine life. It’s quite possible that this could create untold devastation. And it’s another highlight to the danger of off shore drilling, even without the extra risk entailed of doing such in the Arctic.
I’m publishing this post on Lucy Lawless’ birthday (I guess there was a good reason I was taking my time with it!) and her request for this day of her fans is to do something good for the planet. I do a lot of basic things already (no single use water bottles, using reusable shopping bags, driving an efficient car and more). But most importantly, I am using my voice. Below is a video for a song which is becoming my new anthem, Sugarland’s “Stand Up.” I ask everyone: stand up, use your voice. Be aware and involved. It’s only this way that we can save the Arctic, our planet, and ourselves as well as all of the amazing flora and fauna around us. Because it’s not as much about ending oil energy, not right this second. It’s about expanding the energy industry and moving beyond oil/fossil fuels. Because this planet belongs to ALL of us, not solely to greedy profiteers. There is plenty of profit to share even if we treat our planet more gently, and develop/implement far more sustainable, infinitely less destructive ways of fueling our economies and lives.
As Lucy says in a short video about this: “We don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to extract every last drop of oil. We’ve got to smarten up and move to a clean energy economy now.”
Go ahead, use your voice!
For Lucy Lawless fans, her official Save The Arctic Protest page
Carmen Gravatt op-ed in NZ Herald News: We Don’t Need Extreme Oil
Lucy Lawless v. Shell: David v. Goliath – voxy.co.nz
Nathan Argent: Why Greenpeace occupied drilling ship – NZ Herald News
In depth interview with Lucy and Viv Hadlow after the protest ended
All photos in this post ©Greenpeace New Zealand