Shell Oil’s icebreaker Fennica is apparently on its way to the Arctic from the Pacific Northwest, ending a dramatic week-long siege that saw activists dangle from bridges and blockade the Portland harbor with kayaks, and a federal court threaten environmentalists with heavy fines.
Amidst the drama of the action, and the drama of the courtroom, and amidst the outpouring of thanks for activists from Greenpeace, Rising Tide, 350PDX, and others, one more thing is worth remembering: there is no more contemptible company on earth than Shell Oil.
Earlier this year, in a landmark paper in Nature, a team of scientists showed which coal, oil, and gas simply must stay in the ground if we have any chance of staying below a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (a figure that, as premier climate scientist James Hansen reminded us this week, is itself much too high). Tarsands oil must stay in the ground. Vast coal deposits in the Powder River basin must stay below ground. And “there is no climate-friendly scenario” that involves drilling for gas and oil in the Arctic.
That’s as stark a statement as you will ever get. And yet Shell went ahead and applied for permits to drill there anyway. They said, in essence, we don’t give a damn that we’re breaking the planet, we can make some money. That’s as sick as anything any company anywhere has ever done; the earth will pay the price for their greed for geologic time. They watched the Arctic melt and then they decided that would make it easier for them to drill for more oil. People will remember Shell as a watchword for greed the way we remember, all these millennia later, Pharaoh as a watchword for cruelty.
To its everlasting shame, the Obama administration went along with Shell, providing the necessary permit earlier this month. And so now Shell is trying to drill. To meet the requirements of the law, they need an icebreaker near their rigs (despite their best efforts, some ice still remains in the Arctic). But the icebreaker, in need of repairs, had to go to drydock in Portland, where it was trapped by brave citizens, some in kayaks, and others dangling from the St. Johns Bridge. Keeping the icebreaker — the planet-breaker — at bay.
On a day when the Portland temperature reached nearly 100 degrees, and when a city in Iran recorded perhaps the highest heat index the world has ever seen at 154 degrees, a federal judge ruled that Greenpeace, which organized the bridge-dangling blockade, was in contempt of court and threatened fines of a quarter million dollars a day. Shell, which brought the charges, was clearly attempting to break the back of the climate movement, just as it is trying to break the back of the climate.
And who knows — they may succeed. They have immense resources. Against them the rest of us can muster only the currency of movements: passion, spirit, creativity. And sometimes we need to spend our bodies.
Those dangling activists on the bridge, those splendid kayaktivists in the water below: they were sticking up for the rest of us. They were doing their best to enforce the laws of nature, the laws of physics and chemistry. We all should pray that they’re a match for the army of lawyers that the sick and reprehensible corporation known as Shell Oil is summoning. And when we’re done praying we should chip in some money and some time.