Last Wednesday, Greenpeace and First Nations activist Audrey Siegl confronted Shell’s Arctic drilling rig the Polar Pioneer along Canada’s west coast. Emily Hunter, the daughter of Greenpeace’s founding president Robert Hunter, joined the action with the media team on one of the inflatable boats. As they return from the action, this is her message:
Staring out at the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, I feel a sense of past and present colliding. Forty-four years ago in these same waters off Canada’s west coast, my father Robert Hunter and a group of Greenpeace co-founders sailed to stop nuclear testing on the Alaskan island of Amchitka. Today, we have just taken a similar passage on the west coast to disrupt Shell’s plans for drilling in the Arctic this year.
For me, staring back at the same waves my father once encountered reminds me that we live a common story. While these events are separated by time, they are essentially the same struggle. For these are the defining issues of our eras and we are the dreamers that believe we can change them.
Greenpeace was founded by dreamers. People who believed they could turn the tides of history against a great sense of impossibility. They had a vision for what could be, and sparked that same imagination in others. They did this through what my father called “Mind Bombs” – an idea that our greatest tool for revolution is our own consciousness. If we can flip the switch mentally, society and the world at large can be moved.
In this fight to save the Arctic, we need “Mind Bombs” now more than ever.
First voyage with Greenpeace co-founders and Robert Hunter giving a revolutionary fist in the air (top, left).
Nuclear Bomb Vs. Climate Bomb
For the early Greenpeace co-founders in 1971, it seemed an impossible mission to stop Richard Nixon’s nuclear test blast off an island called Amchitka. During the post Cold-War era where highly vested political and economic interests spurred the US into nuclear arms proliferation – at any costs. The blast was to hit a vulnerable ecosystem of Amchitka island, making this small island a symbol for a nuclear apocalypse. For the youth generation of the 1970’s, protecting it meant saving the world.
Today’s fight resembles that very first Greenpeace campaign, but with seemingly more impossible odds. In less than a few weeks, Shell wants to launch another kind of bomb – a “climate bomb” – by beginning to drill for oil in the newly ice-free parts of the Alaskan Arctic. But unlike any other place on Earth, the Arctic is a cooling system for our Earth’s atmosphere. With upwards of 30-50% of sea ice gone, it’s a place that is already in danger. Recklessly exploiting this region would seal our fate with runaway climate change. The Arctic is the symbol of our generation, because literally and metaphorically it is our tipping point on climate change.
So this year we have tried to disrupt Shell’s plans at every turn. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, six brave volunteers scaled Shell’s oil rig to shine a spotlight on their drilling plans. Hundreds of Kayaktivists blocked and protested the drilling rig for nearly a month. Recently, 16 activists were arrested trying to intervene as their vessels headed north. A First Nations delegation and Greenpeace team helped spread resistance along Canada’s west coast, building a powerful allied movement. While just a few days ago, we took another action…
Last Wednesday I joined a team of Greenpeace and First Nations activists to confront Shell’s oil rig, the Polar Pioneer as it headed north to Alaska. We felt small and tiny on our inflatable boats compared to the 300-foot-tall drilling rig attached to two massive tug boats. But the power of the moment was overwhelming, as Indigenous artists Audrey Siegl stood boldly and firmly face-to-face with Shell’s machinery. Meanwhile, two swimmers, Victor Acton Pickering (from Fiji) and Mark Worthing (Canadian), swam directly in the path of the oncoming vessels. This was a #MindBomb moment.
But this wouldn’t be the end of our story…
Emily on an inflatable boat with the action team, heading out to confront Shell’s Arctic drilling rig the Polar Pioneer. © Emily Hunter
A Mind Bomb
In 1971 the first Greenpeace activists did not get to the blast in time, despite their best efforts. The Coast Guard stopped them before they could get to Amchitka, as they had illegally entered US waters and had to turn back. For us here today on the Esperanza, our action will not stop Shell. One action at one time cannot stop their machine. We know this reality.
But like the lessons of the past show, small groups of people taking action can help spark an idea. That idea can become far more powerful than anything we can do alone. It can become the #MindBomb switch in consciousness. It can galvanize more of us in this fight and it can transform the world. It is what helped to eventually end US underground nuclear testing after that first campaign. It launched Greenpeace into existence.
Today, the seeds of another #MindBomb grows in the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world. It is an idea that challenges an old story: that fossil fuels are somehow inevitable and oil companies are somehow invincible; a story we have too often been conditioned to believe is true. Instead, we replace it with a far more powerful idea: that companies like Shell are relics of the past and we must transition to renewable energy. We must put our concerns for people and the planet before profit.
First Nations activist Audrey Siegl stood boldly to confront Shell’s drilling rig the Polar Pioneer.
We’ve seen this idea take hold with a student movement that is pushing to divest (the opposite of invest) billions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry. Pope Francis recently ordered a decree on faith that gives guidance on responding to scientific warnings on climate change. Economically, we see more energy being produced by renewable power than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. And just last week the G7 summit agreed to make fossil fuels a thing of the past by the end of this century.
The #MindBomb is the tool that makes the world change. It was the consciousness switch that ultimately stopped the US nuclear testing in the 1970’s. It will be our tool to ultimately win this fight against Arctic drilling as well.
Staring out at these waves in the Pacific Ocean, I know in my heart that the story of my father’s time and the story of our time is only separated by that – time. Our struggles and our tools for revolution remain the same. An idea can change the world – but it is up to us to make it true.
To the dreamers in all of us making our dreams true!
Emily Hunter is a Digital Mobilizer for Greenpeace Canada.
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