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'Off-Limits!': From North Pole, Greenpeace Youth Activists Demand Protection for Arctic

- Jon Queally, staff writer

(Photo: Greenpeace)Fulfilling the goal of an ambitious polar adventure, a small Greenpeace team and a group of youth ambassadors have planted a flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole declaring the region "off limits" to exploitation by oil companies, governments, and commercial interests.

The expedition was part of an ongoing global campaign by Greenpeace to protect the Arctic, which they say is under direct threat from climate change.

"By planting the time capsule and flag, they have drawn a line in the ice, telling the polluters and oil companies: you come no further." -Greenpeace

Following a week-long trek across the frozen plains of the North Pole, the group managed to arrive at their destination, cut a hole in the ice, and lower a weighted flag attached to a time-capsule that contains the names of more than 3 million people who answered Greenpeace's call to 'save the arctic.'

"By coming to the top of the world and planting this flag, we’re hoping to inspire young people everywhere," said 26-year-old Josefina Skerk, one of the four expeditioners, an indigenous activist and member of the Sami Parliament in Sweden. "We’re here to say this special area of the Arctic belongs to no person or nation, but is the common heritage of everyone on Earth."

The expedition coincided with the first ever meeting at the North Pole of the Arctic Council, the international governing body comprised of foreign ministers and senior officials from Arctic states. As the expedition started, the Greenpeace ambassadors requested a meeting with the group, but were refused.

In all, there were sixteen people who travelled in the Greenpeace group that reached the North Pole.

"I can’t feel the tips of my fingers or toes but my head and heart are filled with a new-found determination," said Ezra Miller, one of the other youth ambassadors and an actor from New York. "Melting ice is a catastrophe, not a profit-making opportunity. To see it as such is utter madness. Three million people have now joined this movement to declare their commitment to save this vital part of our earth; I feel honored to be a part of this team, which was chosen to represent all of them at this critical moment in history. This is a collective responsibility. It’s up to all of us, and especially the youth, to change the way that humanity treats this amazing planet we love and rely on so completely." Team Aurora (L-R) Josefina Skerk, member of the Sami Parliament in Sweden; Renny Bijoux from Seychelles - a nation under grave threat from climate change; 20-year-old musician and Hollywood actor Ezra Miller and Kiera Dawn Kolson of the Tso Tine-Gwich in nation in Northern Canada prepare to lower the time capsule into the icy waters at the North Pole. (Photo: Christian Aslund / Greenpeace)

The group received prominent support from around the globe, including from world leaders, celebrities, and a growing international movement that sees protection of the arctic as a vital part of the broader climate justice movement. As part of the campaign, Greenpeace has called for world governments to declare the region a global sanctuary free from commercial fishing, fossil fuel extraction, and industrialization.

For his part, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu voiced his approval of such a declaration saying: "I offer my full support to these young people who travelled to the North Pole on behalf of those whose lives are being turned upside down by climate change."

Before the group set out, this video documented the group's training and the reasoning behind the expedition:

On Monday, Greenpeace announced in a statement:

The youth ambassadors and Greenpeace campaigners have challenged the companies and nations seeking to profit from climate change. By planting the time capsule and flag, they have drawn a line in the ice, telling the polluters and oil companies: you come no further. 

The young people are part of a Greenpeace team that trekked for one week across the frozen ocean in freezing winds and temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius. They traveled around 10 km a day, each dragging heavy sleighs weighing 80kg behind them. In a remote and dangerous environment their supplies dwindled as the shifting ice took them further from the Pole. The team then hitched a ride with a helicopter that was flying in from the nearby Barneo Base, to put them within striking distance of the Pole, allowing them to ski and drift a shorter final distance and complete their journey to the top of the world.

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