I stepped on to the Esperanza, Greenpeace’s ice class A ship, this past weekend for the first time. It will be my home for the next two months, a home that will travel with me as I do this work I feel is so necessary, important enough to leave my beloved family for such a long time. I am heading up to the Arctic to draw a line in the ice, and to say No to Shell as they prepare to drill for greater profits in the Arctic. I know drilling in the Arctic won’t affect the prices that you and I pay at the pump because they are set at a global level. This is about one of the richest companies in the world getting a few billion dollars richer.
We are heading to the North Slopeof Alaska because Shell is only two permits away from being able to drill into one of the world’s last wilderness regions, in one of the most productive and pristine ecosystems on earth: the Arctic.
It’s a wild place where polar bears, narwhals and walrus roam, and the people still live in balance with nature. It’s also a harsh place with dynamic ice flow and hurricane-force storms that would make cleaning up an oil spill there virtually impossible. Think of the months-long news images of the Deepwater Horizon spill response in the Gulf of Mexico. Compared to the Arctic that was like cleaning up an oil spill in a kiddy pool. There is no way to mount that kind of response in the icy Arctic; there is just no capacity for it.
Part of our mission on this trip is to bring the Arctic to the world, so this week I began training to pilot a tiny two-person submarine that we will use to dive into Chukchi and Beaufort Sea’s to document the fragile ecosystem at risk from drilling. It’s hard to understand how Shell can get permitted to drill into this fragile place when we have so little understanding of its ecology and what is at risk. We will bring back baseline data that scientists can use to better understand this untouched world, and that policy makers should consider before opening it up to industrial development and the oil rush Shell is set to begin.
It’s ironic that climate change, from the burning of fossil fuels, has rapidly reduced the Arctic ice cover making it possible for Shell to rush in to this untainted and fragile place to drill for more oil to burn.
Pulling oil out of the Arctic and burning it into the atmosphere, when we desperately need to be reducing our carbon footprint, will only lead to a state of runaway climate change and global-scale catastrophes.
The melting ice is a warning Shell, not an invitation to drill! The Arctic is the canary in the coal mine, our early warning system. And the message is coming across load and clear: it’s time to get off oil and move to renewable sources of energy that don’t threaten to change life on earth as we know it. Perhaps Shell has too much money stuffed in their ears to hear the message. But we’ll be there to transmit the warning to the world.