Greenpeace's Shard Ascent Reminds Us of the Power of Civil Disobedience
In highlighting Shell's reckless drilling plans in the Arctic, green activists are showing what just a handful of people can achieve
Does it all seem too hard? Does it feel like governments and corporations will always get away with it in the end? Do you ask yourself what one person alone can do? Greenpeace is part of a global movement of interconnected people all standing up and joining forces to stop injustices of all kinds. And every day somewhere in the world we're winning.
Thursday, a group of six Greenpeace women activists started climbing western Europe's tallest building, the Shard, in London. As I write, they are still climbing. Their courage and determination is backed by millions of people who have joined the Save the Arctic movement and are asking Shell and others to keep their hands off the Arctic.
They chose to climb the Shard because it towers over Shell's three London offices, including the oil giant's global headquarters on the south bank of the Thames. When they get to the top they plan to hang a piece of Arctic artwork. If they make it, it will be the highest successful art installation since Philippe Petit tightrope-walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974.
But this is not all. On Wednesday morning German Greenpeace activists boarded a ship docked in Hamburg, and prevented it from leaving with a cargo of meat from endangered fin whales hunted off Iceland. Like almost every country in the world, the German government agrees that commercial whaling should be banned. But the authorities decided to let the shipment go. So four activists climbed on to the ship's mooring lines and at the stern of the ship unfurled a banner which said: "Stop trading in whale meat". Suddenly this was looking like more trouble than the cargo company, Charter Unifeeder, wanted. The shipment was cancelled, the meat was not loaded, the activists came off the mooring lines and the ship will leave port short of six containers of whale meat.
And just a couple of days ago, Greenpeace activists set up a hanging "nuclear emergency camp" on the suspension cables of the iconic Gwangandaegyo bridge in Busan, South Korea, calling for the government to widen the official nuclear evacuation zone to a 30km radius. The four activists from Korea, USA, Taiwan and Indonesia displayed banners warning the people of Busan that many of them live within that radius. Thursday, after three days out in the scorching sun and with a great deal of local support from passers by, our team climbed down the cables to attend a meeting at the city hall in Busan.
The French government agents who bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour 28 years ago, thought that their act would silence the anti-nuclear protests in the Pacific. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Many say that activism changed that day. The bombing of the Rainbow Warrior was an instance when a government chose to respond to peaceful protest with deadly force, but peaceful protest has prevailed. Peaceful protest has stopped the whale meat transport in Hamburg and catalysed our campaigners meeting with Korean authorities to discuss improved nuclear emergency plans.
It is my hope that our peaceful protest in London will draw attention to Shell's reckless Arctic drilling plans. The movement to save the Arctic is growing; millions of people are resisting Shell's ambitions to drill for oil in one of the most pristine and unique environments in the world and fast-track climate change. It is obvious that too many corporations and governments do not listen and put power and profit over people, ignoring what is in the best interest of humanity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get their attention – but one thing that we know that works is civil disobedience and peaceful protest. Every act of rebellion – no matter how seemingly insignificant – adds up.
Copyright The Guardian