Climate change, arctic drilling, and direct action protest. James Blakely is an avid outdoorsman who wants you to care about the environment too.
You need a lot of courage and conviction to challenge an enemy that’s as big as goliath, especially when goliath is one of largest corporations in the world and practically owns our government. In the predawn hours on Wednesday, July 29th, over a dozen brave activists did just that; they stood up to the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.
As another dawn was getting ready to greet the Pacific Northwest, 13 Greenpeace activists (7 women and 6 men) rappelled off of Portland’s tallest bridge—St. Johns—in an effort to stop Shell’s icebreaker, the MVS Fennica, from leaving port and heading to the Arctic. As the news hit social media, I learned that several of the activists were friends, many of whom I took similar action with back in June as we blockaded Shell’s Arctic drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer as it left the Port of Seattle.
Last week, the Fennica arrived in Portland for repairs after sustaining damage to its hull while navigating off the coast of Alaska. According to the conditions of Shell’s drilling permit, the Fennica which carries key equipment to Shell’s spill-response plan, must be onsite before drilling can begin. Shell has a short window of opportunity to drill in the icy Arctic waters (until September 28th to be exact). Every delay is one less day they have to destroy the pristine environment. These brave activists aren’t making it easy and thus far have stopped the ship from leaving.
Despite growing concerns of climate change from the world’s top scientists, the Obama Administration granted Shell most of its final permits (they still need one more) to drill in the Arctic. It appears that President Obama may not be all that serious about addressing climate change after he pledged to “end the tyranny of oil and slow the rise of the oceans”. If we want to take climate change seriously, which we have failed to do so far and reduce our country’s greenhouse gas emissions, drilling for oil in the Arctic absolutely cannot happen.
The effects on climate aren’t the only reason why drilling in the Arctic is a terrible idea. The Department of Interior’s own Environmental Impact Statement concluded that there is a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill occurring if Shell develops its oil leases. Shell failed miserably the last time they attempted to drill in the Arctic back in 2012. One rig, the Kulluk ran aground on an Alaskan island while the other, the Noble Discoverer nearly breached itself in Dutch Harbor which resulted in Shell pleading to eight felony violations. Shell doesn’t have a good track record in the Arctic let alone in many other parts of the world.
Despite the risks Arctic drilling brings to the climate, wildlife and Native people that subsist off the land, Shell is determined to forge ahead; but not without some major resistance. Thousands of people all across the United States have joined with the 13 activists in Portland to say no to Arctic drilling.
At the time of writing this article, these brave activists have been dangling from the St. Johns Bridge above the Willamette River for nearly 35 hours. Bright banners blow in the wind off their lines, while colorful kayaktivists dot the river below them. These people are what stand in the way between Shell and its Arctic drilling plans. Earlier this morning, the climbers and boaters successfully blocked the Fennica from leaving port. The activists are prepared to stay for as long as possible.
Georgia, fellow Arctic defender, friend and one of the most badass women I know shared why she is taking action in Portland and risking arrest:
“[The reason why] I am so inclined to stand against Shell is that Shell represents so much of the corporate dominance and greed and power that is unjustly held, controlling our government, influencing our president. There is no way you can look at the details, look at the facts [about Arctic drilling] and think that this is a good idea.”
Kristina Flores, another fellow activist who is participating in the action had this to say:
“This movement is personal for me because this is the planet I live on and I don’t see what’s more personal than protecting something that literally sustains my existence….to stand up for my environment, that’s not activism, that’s just right.”
As an avid outdoorsmen, I have been to some spectacular places and I’ve also seen great environmental destruction. I’ve seen the atrocities of extreme energy extraction and listened to stories from locals on how these practices are negatively impacting their communities and livelihoods. Combined with the heavy weight of what scientists are telling us about climate change, it is hard not to feel depressed and hopeless. But these 13 climbers inspire hope and courage to stand up and fight. They show that people power can and do make a difference.
The risks of drilling in the Arctic are too great. President Obama can still put an end to Arctic drilling this season by not issuing Shell’s final permit. However, if he won’t stop it, then the people will.
- UPDATE 7:30 PM PDT JULY 30, 2015 [From Greenpeace USA] “The last activist has now come down from the St. Johns Bridge in Portland after almost 40 HOURS.
- While all the activists are tired and hot, they are filled with gratitude for amazing support from the Portland community — and from everyone around the world that joined with them to protest Arctic drilling.”
- UPDATE 5:56 PM PDT: Three climbers have been removed and the Fennica was able to pass under the St. Johns bridge.
- UPDATE 4:57 PM PDT: After 39 hours, two climbers have come down and were detained by police. 11 remain.
Photos courtesy of:  Greenpeace;  Greenpeace;  Dan Cannon;  Kristina Flores