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What Would Nature Do?
Issue 64 Cover

 

What Would Nature Do? Solutions to Our Biggest Challenges Have Been Here All Along. Learn more in the Winter 2013 issue of YES! Magazine.

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Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo: Time to Stand Against Big Oil in the Arctic

Oil companies—and many of our political leaders—see melting sea ice as an opportunity to drill deeper. Fortunately, you don’t have to occupy an Arctic drilling platform to join the growing movement of people who are putting themselves on the line for our planet’s future.

Thin Ice photo by Greenpeace

Photo by Andrew Davies.

Hanging from an oil platform in the Russian Arctic one day last August, I was hosed by a jet of water from above so icy it almost cut through the skin on my face. My hands and feet were blue from the cold. Though I was wrapped in layers of waterproof gear, freezing water trickled into the small openings around my neck. My body was under extreme stress, and I was sinking into a state of confusion. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure that joining this Greenpeace action was the best decision I could have made. Then I thought of the supporters who joined Save the Arctic to tell the oil industry, with a united voice, not to drill in this pristine environment. They kept me warm.

Global warming caused by our use of fossil fuels is already driving climate change and extreme weather events. From drought in South Africa to severe flooding in the Philippines to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, our planet is sending us warnings that could not be clearer. And the Arctic ice is melting, reaching a record summer low this year.

Scientists see that as evidence that the climate is changing faster than anyone predicted. Big Oil sees it as an opportunity to exploit.

Kumi Naidoo photo courtesy of Elevate Festival

Kumi Naidoo. Photo courtesy of Elevate Festival.

“Cognitive dissonance” describes the response of our political leaders. They know we must quickly curb our addiction to fossil fuels to avoid a climate change tipping point. But they open up the Arctic, or the Tar Sands in Canada, to oil companies that want to squeeze out a few more billion in profits while the going’s good. They are selling our future and letting the next generation pick up the tab.

Fortunately, many people see the absurdity of actions like exploiting melting sea ice to drill for more oil. And some are taking action. Last year a major movement organized to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried dirty tar sands oil from Canada all the way to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Over a thousand people of all ages allowed themselves to be arrested in front of the White House. President Obama listened and delayed the pipeline, against the mighty power of the oil industry.

Between June and October, more than two million people signed on to support the Greenpeace Save the Arctic movement—and we’ve only just started.

International oil companies are hesitating over Arctic drilling because they see the huge technical risks of operating in such an extreme environment, but they also see the massive level of public opposition. Shell put its Alaska drilling program on hold for 2012 after part of its spill response equipment was damaged. International attention on the Arctic helped force this decision, because Shell knew that millions of people were watching their every move.

This battle requires us to value hope and science above pessimism and the relentless greed of Big Oil. While Greenpeace will continue to fight in boardrooms, gas stations, and on the ocean itself, we are part of a broader movement that needs your creativity, ideas, and energy.

You don’t have to climb an oil platform to help. You already know what to do—bike to work or use public transportation, and pressure your local politicians to adopt policies that curb the use of fossil fuels and support renewable energy. Protecting the Arctic is one of the environmental battles that will define humanity’s approach to climate change. Do we allow billionaire corporations to decide for us, or do we draw a line in the ice and say “enough”?


Kumi Naidoo wrote this article for What Would Nature Do?, the Winter 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Kumi is director of Greenpeace International. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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