How saving the Arctic can get you detained in Russia

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Photo Courtesy: Will Rose / Greenpeace
Photo Courtesy: Will Rose/Greenpeace

On 23 September, a major international gathering of the world’s top climate scientists was held in Stockholm, Sweden to put the final touches to a major report on climate change – the fifth in a series of assessments. By the end of this week, the report’s summary will be accepted by 195 governments as the most comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change since 2007.

It is no secret that despite previous stark warnings, the global emissions causing climate change continue to go up, not down; a dangerous trend that puts at risk the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world from changes in extreme weather, rising sea levels and other serious problems.

Last week, scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the US announced that the Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its sixth lowest extent in recorded historythis year. And while this extent of ice is higher than 2012’s record-breaking minimum, it remains one of the lowest since records began, reinforcing the long-term downward trend.

There is no doubt that the world is in the ever tightening grip of global climate change as we bear witness to ever more intense weather events, floods, increasing intensity of hurricanes and storms, exacerbating droughts and forest fires.

And yet, while governments continue to kowtow to oil, coal and gas corporations; while major carbon-belching power stations continue to be built; those who are trying to warn us of the dangers are arrested and detained without any charge.

Since 19 September, the Greenpeace ‘icebreaker’, Arctic Sunrise has been under armed guard. Earlier, activists had peacefully protested against drilling for oil in the fragile Arctic by the Russian company Gazprom, which is one of the oil corporations involved in the rush to get at the black gold in the Arctic now made easier to access because of the very impact – melting ice – of the use of this substance. Other oil coporations desperately trying to get in on the act include Shell.

Russian security forces boarded the Arctic Sunrise and no charges have been pressed against any activist, Greenpeace or any other organisation. The ship has been towed to the north Russian port of Murmansk.

And the crime?  That these activists peacefully protested against the environmental vandalism that Gazprom is causing. But instead of arresting the true criminals, peaceful protesters have been detained by security guards bearing armed guns and knives.

Gazprom and the other oil corporations such as Shell that are trying to drill the Arctic are the real criminals. Investigations by Greenpeace Russia proved over a week ago that Gazprom intended to start drilling despite not having all the necessary permissions.  This should make the drilling illegal.

We know that Gazprom would not be able to respond to an oil spill from the rig; there is inadequate equipment, no infrastructure and it is operating in an environment where the sea is ice-covered two-thirds of the year and the temperature can dip to -50oC. Gazprom’s worst case scenario is a spill of 73,000 barrels. BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, operating in the relatively benign Gulf of Mexico, spewed nearly 5 million barrels in 2010. An oil spill scenario made by Greenpeace and WWF last year shows that an oil spill could reach three surrounding nature reserves and would affect indigenous communities as well as wildlife.

Activism is not a crime – it is a fundamental ingredient for the operation of civilised societies. It is the oil corporations recklessly drilling the Arctic that are the real criminals.  In a just world, the CEOs of Gazprom, Shell, BP, Exxon etc. would be arrested, not peaceful activists who are putting their lives and liberty on the line to warn all of us of the dangers of oil drilling. Oil corporations are simply out of control as irresponsible governments whose role is to protect its citizens simply continue to allow the reckless exploitation of one of the world’s most fragile wilderness areas.

It is time for people to stand up and this is happening as nearly four million people have joined Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign since June 2012, including high profile figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sir Paul McCartney, and Penelope Cruz. One of Greenpeace’s main goals – a sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the North Pole that would keep destructive industry out – was recently boosted after theGovernment of Finland announced its support for the concept.

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