Peter Willcox has seen nearly everything. In 1985, he was captain of the Rainbow Warrior when French agents bombed it, killing one of the crew. He and I witnessed first hand the impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf. But he’s never seen the inside of a Russian jail, until now. Captain Willcox is one of the 30 Greenpeace crew, activists and volunteers who has been held for over 100 hours by armed Russian security services after taking part in a safe, peaceful protest against Arctic oil drilling.
This incident is unfolding against the backdrop of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment, released today, which confirms at the highest levels the “unequivocal” role of human activity in climate change. The facts from the world’s leading climate scientists prove the actions of these international activists were justified.
Instead of taking action to curb this catastrophe, companies like Gazprom, Shell, ExxonMobil and BP intend to drill for oil in parts of the Arctic ocean where warming temperatures have melted the ice and created large areas of open water. Captain Willcox and millions of people around the world believe that drilling for oil in a melting arctic, when burning oil and other fossil fuels caused climate change in the first place, is an obscene response to the arrival of global warming. It needs be stopped to prevent runaway, disastrous climate change.
Gasoline demand in the U.S. is steadily declining. China has mandated new fuel efficiency standards that will take effect in the near future. And hardened analysts are beginning to doubt the economics of Arctic drilling.
But these companies are desperate to squeeze the last drops of oil and gas out of the earth, so they’re exploring riskier and riskier terrain, such as the Arctic. Peaceful activism is crucial when governments around the world have failed to respond to dire scientific warnings about the consequences of climate change in the Arctic and elsewhere. So Captain Willcox, and 29 other activists from around the world, took action.
The Arctic 30 understood the risks of what they were doing, and they understood the potential repercussions, but the overreaction of the Russian authorities — including 11 warning shots and illegally boarding and arresting the ship in the dark of night — to protect an oil company is disproportionate to a peaceful protest.
There is a huge gap between the scientific warnings from the IPCC and the current political response. Russia has all but ignored the science, exploring for and burning more fossil fuels. In the U.S., President Obama has promised action late in his Presidency, which is a good step, but falls short of the action that scientists say must happen.
The Arctic is a vivid example of this gap – countries like Russia and the United States are ignoring the warning signs of the rapidly melting ice, and instead seeing it as an opportunity for more oil drilling and more profits for Big Oil.
Our governments are failing in their duty to protect their people based on the warnings they’re receiving. They remain wedded to corporations which pursue an outdated business model rooted in the 20th century. They have failed to respond to the overwhelming evidence that fossil fuels can and must be phased out.
In these circumstances, citizen activism is not only justified – it is necessary.
This action is about the courage of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. From Keystone in the US to Gezi Park, activism remains a vital democratic response to political inaction.
We must draw a line in the forests and say no more destruction. We must draw a line in the tar sands and say no. We must draw a line in the village green and say no to fracking.
And we must draw a line in the ice and say ‘you come no further’
It’s time to break the complicity and collusion between governments who are supposed to protect their citizens and outdated fossil fuel companies who are trying to hold on to the glory day of the 20th century regardless of the consequences.
Captain Willcox and his fellow activists carry with them the legacy of Rosa Parks, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. His courage should be applauded, it should be supported and above all it should be followed by more action to save the climate and protect our children’s legacy.