Raising our voices for the Arctic
There is never a better day, than today, to speak out and take action to protect our precious planet.
For World Environment Day 2014, the theme is ‘Raise your voice – not the sea level’ and Alex Harris, Communications Officer at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, shares with us her extraordinary and brave experience of raising her voice about the Arctic.
“One day Arctic sea ice may be a thing of the past in summer. A distant memory of what used to be. And something our grandchildren will look at with awe in the natural history books.
That day could be as soon as the middle of this century. That’s when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts the Arctic could experience its first nearly ice-free September – the end of the Northern Summer.
Late last year I joined the Arctic Sunrise on a voyage to protest on the world’s first offshore Arctic oil platform, the Pririzomnalya. Following our protest against Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom, armed Russian commandos seized our ship and towed us to Murmansk. Here, we were thrown in prison under charges of piracy and hooliganism. Thirty of us, notoriously known as the ‘Arctic 30’, spent two months in prison and five weeks on bail before we were granted amnesty for a crime we did not commit.
Now I am free and back living in Australia, enjoying the simple yet ever so pleasurable things I have come to appreciate in life. Feeling sunshine beat down on the back of my neck. Enjoying fresh fruit and a cup of coffee. Feeling the sand between my toes and the ocean sweep over my feet. Now I am a million miles away from the distant memories of my prison hell but I can’t forget how I came to be on the Arctic Sunrise and why I chose to board.
The melting ice is the only reason oil companies have been able to ‘conquer’ the once harsh and unforgiving landscape for which the Arctic was known.
Instead of seeing the melting ice as a warning that our climate is catastrophically changing, oil companies see it as an opportunity to drill for more oil that is causing the Arctic to melt in the first place.
Last week I witnessed history in the making. The world’s first Arctic oil has been produced and shipped to Europe, soon to be pumped out of Total petrol stations. This new commodity is from the very same oil drilling platform that we attempted to hang a protest banner on, resulting in our arrest. This oil not only represents a crime to freedom of expression and peaceful protest but it also symbolises the industrialization of the Arctic and a massive leap back in progress.
My brave friends and fellow prisoners, Sini, Faiza, Phil, Gizem, Tomaz and Pete, did everything in their power to highlight the arrival of this tanker in Rotterdam and all that it means for the future of the Arctic. I watch with awe and respect. Gazprom tried to silence us before, but we only grew stronger. Prison didn’t change our commitment – it only reinforced it and made it stronger.
I’m not a mother, but I do bear a responsibility for future generations who will inherit this planet. I do bear responsibility for this magnificent ecosystem that is disappearing at an alarming rate. And maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to be a mother and I want to be able to look my children in the eye and tell them that I defended their future and their planet that they call home.
It would be easy to sit back at my home in Australia, enjoy nothing but the simple pleasures of freedom, a million miles away from the Arctic. But I can’t. I am part of the movement to save the Arctic which is already five million people strong. The European Union and Finland, an Arctic council member, supports our call for an Arctic sanctuary banning industrialization in the Arctic. Today we won’t stop this oil. But one day we will. And to do that we need to grow even bigger and we need governments and corporations to refuse this tainted Arctic oil.
So we ensure that one day this Arctic oil – not Arctic ice – will be wiped out, only to be seen in the history books as a thing of the past.”
Alex Harris is the Communications Officer at Greenpeace Australia Pacific. She was also one of 30 people who were imprisoned in Russia at the end of 2013 following a peaceful protest against Arctic drilling.
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* Photo of polar bear © Nick Cobbing, Greenpeace.