We Can Stop Shell's Disastrous Arctic Drilling – But Only If We Join Together

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We Can Stop Shell's Disastrous Arctic Drilling – But Only If We Join Together

Shell’s plan to commence drilling in this untouched region would impact climate change efforts, indigenous populations and the marine environment

An activist with Greenpeace as she hung from the St. Johns Bridge to block a Shell icebreaker from leaving Portland, Oregon this week. (Photo: Don Ryan/AP)

Shell is putting corporate profits ahead of our future in its determination to drill in the Arctic. Our elected leaders, most of whom are beholden to corporate interests, won’t act. That’s why some environmentalists are willing to put their lives on the line if need be to stop this insanity.

On Tuesday, Portland “kayaktivists” – activists on kayaks – and Greenpeace workers converged near the drydock to prevent MSV Fennica, Shell Oil’s damaged ice-breaker, from making its way to the Arctic. If it reaches its destination, the ship will pave the way for Shell drilling in a virgin territory.

Fennica was in Portland for repairs to a gash in its hull, which it only became aware of when water started leaking into the ship. This carelessness is not surprising. The Department of Interior has stated that there is a 75% chance of an oil spill in the Arctic once drilling commences, a spill which experts say would be virtually impossible to clean up, posing unacceptable risks to indigenous peoples and the marine environment.

In order to prevent Fennica from reaching its destination, a handful of “kayaktivists,” made up of members and allies of the Portland-area Climate Action Coalition – including 350PDX, Portland Rising Tide and my group, the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network – blocked its exit point on the Willamette River.Greenpeace activists surprised us in the early morning hours Wednesday when they rappelled down ropes from the St John’s Bridge overhead, their orange and yellow banners waving in the breeze.

As the Fennica began to sail, a reporter from a local radio station called on my cell and asked: “It’s looking like the Fennica is approaching the climbers and the kayakers, what is your Plan B?” I responded by saying: “There is no Plan B, just as there is no Planet B”, adding “We have no intention of moving until President Obama rescinds the permit for Shell to drill in the Arctic.”

Shell’s plan to commence drilling in this untouched region — made possible thanks to rapidly melting ice – comes at a time when Nasa’s former top climate scientist says we may see at least 10 feet of sea level rise by 2050 due to climate change.

Thursday was one of the hottest days this summer. The extreme weather – which is killing record quantities of salmon in rivers around the Northwest — was just another reason why we were prepared to stay as long as required.

After two days of protests, the Fennica turned around. It was a hard-won victory and already short-lived. On Thursday, the police were moving in to extract the climbers. Some kayaktivists have already been arrested. We know that this is not the end. Shell will try again to get its ice-breaker into the Arctic. But we hope that this blockade may just be the “human tipping point” that stops all the new drilling and new fossil fuel infrastructure now.

Portland’s ongoing and powerful resistance to the shipping of coal and oil by rail, as well as tar sands mining equipment by road, has shown us that people won’t stand by as the planet continues to experience weather extremes. That’s why activists here and across the Northwest will continue to act as a chokepoint in the transport of dirty coal, oil and gas from coal, oil, gas and tar sands to our east and north – the carbon content of which, once burned, could well exceed the Keystone XL pipeline five times over.

We can do it, but not alone. Join us.

Daphne Wysham

Daphne Wysham is the director of the climate and energy program at the Center for Sustainable Economy and an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter: @daphnewysham

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