|This is the final installment in a three-part series about Arctic oil exploration and resistance in Norway. Read the first and second parts here and here.
On Aug. 17, Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship entered the exclusion zone around the Statoil rig Songa Enabler. Activists from across the world took to inflatables and kayaks to get within 500 meters of the oil rig, in protest of Norway's plans to pump oil via a 143km pipeline to the city of Hammerfest.
We visited Hammerfest that month, and on our way back south we met with Greenpeace's Nordic Save the Arctic campaigner Laura Meller in Helsinki. Days before the direct action, said Meller, the Arctic Sunrise had also been engaged in outreach.
“They've been visiting towns along the coast, having open boat sessions where people can see the ship and find out about the issues. They also visited Bear Island, between the coast of Norway and Svalbard, where some of the new oil licences are very close by. That island is protected as it hosts millions of sea birds and is ecologically important,” Meller said.
To show how climate change is already impacting the world with devastating results – even before plans to drill the Arctic are realised – the ship brought a survivor from one of the now regular typhoons hitting the Philippines.
Meller explained, “To stop dangerous climate change we need to keep most fossil fuels in the ground. So we don't need to go to the Arctic, which is the riskiest and most dangerous place to drill.”
Perhaps the most famous direct action in the Arctic sea to date was launched from Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise in 2013, when 30 activists and journalists attempted to board a Russian oil rig and, as a result, were imprisoned in Russia. But other efforts abound.
DIRECT ARCTIC ACTION
Earlier this year, Greenpeace activists again took to the waters in kayaks to target a rig being towed away from the Norwegian coast. Kayaktivists and climbers also made waves in Seattle and Portland in 2015, as hundreds hung from bridges and filled the water, blocking Shell's Arctic icebreaker as it came out of dry docks after repairs.
Amid the protest against the Shell fleet as it headed north, activists also locked themselves to a ship's anchor, a technique to keep the ship in port. The strategy has been replicated elsewhere.
Making their intentions clear for future actions in the Arctic, the Norwegian organization Nature and Youth has been in training for cold water-based actions against the drilling – for example, going into the sea in survival suits and practicing ways to block oil operations.
The fact is, protests can attack Arctic drilling almost anywhere, not only at sea. One way is by removing the companies' licences to drill. Another is through shame campaigns like the one that targeted the toymaker LEGO, which had a deal with Shell until activists took the company to task.
Similarly, protesters have attacked arts and culture institutions sponsored by Arctic oil drillers, undercutting their greenwashing efforts. Equally, there are sizeable divestment campaigns to strip money from Arctic oil expansion. Banks that provide services and financing to extractive industries have been an effective target in recent pipeline conflicts – a strategy that many are trying to replicate in the fight against Arctic drilling.
On the Arctic Sunrise mission last summer, the ship also hosted people who are actively suing governments across the world to stop climate change. Greenpeace and Nature and Youth Norway are pursuing this legal route, among others, to keep Arctic oil in the ground.
“Greenpeace and Nature and Youth have filed a court case against the Norwegian government, as their constitution guarantees present and future generations a right to healthy and safe environment,” Greenpeace's Meller explained. A crucial argument in the case claims that the government is breaking promises it made in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The Norwegian government will be in the dock starting in November, as the hearings coincide with this year's COP23 climate summit in Bonn, which runs Nov. 6-17. As Occupy.com reported, this summit will be a unique event since it is being hosted by Fiji, one of many Pacific island nations made extremely vulnerable by rising seas. Fiji's leadership at COP23 will put indigenous issues in the Global South squarely on the table.
Meller said the current court case highlights Norway's role in climate change in an international context. It is also changing people's way of thinking in the Nordic country. “There is often a perception that Norwegians are all in favor of oil drilling as they see it as such an important part of the economy,” Meller explained. “But that is not actually true. People in Norway see the conflict of being very green and progressive, driving electric cars and producing renewable energy – and at the same time, having a very hard time with their conscience given that a lot of the wealth comes from the oil industry.”
A recent opinion poll found that 44 percent of people said they are against Arctic oil drilling, with only 42 percent in favor. Meller suggested the attention raised by the court case, in conjunction with the local and global campaign against drilling, could continue to shift the momentum in Norway away from an oil future.
When we asked Meller about a positive vision for the Arctic, she clarified:
“The Arctic is still a place to do things right, to say, 'Enough is enough, we do not go there to exploit it.' It can also be a place where development takes place on the terms of the indigenous populations that have lived there for centuries and millennia," she said. "We can experiment, test and learn to live in ways that are not exploiting the environment, for instance, [using] renewable energy systems that would work in remote areas.”