Blog by Anna Pommer, a deckhand from Germany onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.
I imagine that it was a heavily overcast morning in fall 1971, when an old ship, The Phyllis Cormack, departed from Vancouver driven by fear, determination and hope to set sail for an impossible mission: stopping the nuclear bomb test Cannikin in Amchitka, Alaska. The ship was in bad shape and the crew lacked experience at sea, yet the desperate urge to stop nuclear bomb testing kept them going. So the vessel fought its way courageously through the heavy winds towards the Aleutian Islands.
This scene is crossing my mind while we are floating along the Aleutians. Here we are again, 40 years later, embarking on a similar voyage to stop future off shore oil drilling in the Arctic and protect one of the last pristine ecosystems. Like the crew must have felt during the first Greenpeace voyage, I feel desperately small at the immensity of our mission.
But unlike the Phyllis Cormack our ship, the Esperanza, is a strong ice class vessel. We are still driven by determination and hope, but more so we are equipped with the strength of scientific evidence and with two state of the art submarines that will enable us to collect baseline data around the designated oil drilling sites. We want to reveal the uniqueness and diversity of the Chukchi Sea, an area of immense productivity that provides critical habitat for mammals such as narwhals and polar bears – an area that is just about to be exploited.
Against the odds the sky is blue and a pod of humpback whales is joining us in encouragement, as the Esperanza heads north. I imagine how the crew of the Phyllis Cormack sailed these waters, carrying the prophecy of the Warriors of the Rainbow, a Cree Indian prophecy that tells about a time when the earth would be ravaged and the waters would blacken. A group of people, known as the Warriors of the Rainbow, would rise to heal the earth. We are still carrying this legacy with us – in a time where it feels ever more crucial to act.
Our addiction to oil has driven humanity to more remote drilling sites that entail ever greater risks. Instead of choosing a sustainable future, big oil companies are lining up for an unprecedented oil rush in these extreme environments, while apparently disregarding the high risk of oil spills and the severe implications for the climate.
It is not the swell of the waves that makes my stomach revolt when I consider the multiple spiraling effects of climate change in the Arctic. In the past decades sea ice has declined at unprecedented rates. This results in a decreased albedo (reflection of solar energy), which in turn results in higher water temperatures and contributes to further sea ice melting. The polar ice caps play, however, an essential role for the regulation of our global climate… My head starts spinning.
While contemplating the endless horizon I also wonder about the implications of an oil spill in an ecosystem as sensitive as the Arctic, where cleaning up a spill is virtually impossible. What would be the implications for the local communities once their environment is contaminated by oil? Yet few people could directly assess the severe impacts of an oil spill in such a remote area. That is why we embarked on this journey, to bear witness.
Back then the first Greenpeace ship never reached the testing site as the US Coast Guard intercepted them. Nonetheless their voyage triggered a huge international wave of protest. All eyes were on Amchitka and even though Cannikin went off, future testing was cancelled a few months later.
The success of the first Greenpeace voyage relied on the support of thousands of people. Again we need you to join the thousands of voices that have been raised to say Save the Arctic!
When I am reading the stories of the first Greenpeace voyage, I feel deeply inspired. The fact that at this very moment we are writing a new chapter of the story amazes me and it reminds me that you cannot sink an idea. We are here and that’s where we begin.