Crazy Davids vs Insane Shelliaths

My favorite ad of all time is Apple’s “Here’s to the crazy ones…”

As someone who has personally worked with crazy, been accused of crazy, and sees the organisation he’s volunteered for and worked for regularly described as crazy, the only sane reaction is to not think of it as a pejorative.

Are you crazy? Here’s a test:

True or False? 

1. I don’t believe that humanity is stupid enough to allow a few greedy oil companies to treat the retreat of Arctic ice due to the burning of fossil fuels as a business opportunity for exploiting more fossil fuels.

2. I believe we can stop them. 

If you answered true to both those statements, by any reasonable standard, there’s compelling evidence that you’re crazy.

But maybe crazy like Einstein. Crazy like Jobs. Crazy like Gandhi. Crazy like Lennon.

Crazy like a little kid in a famous story, who every morning woke up among soldiers being taunted by the biggest, best equipped badass Philistine warrior telling the opposing soldiers they were losing the war, and if anyone wanted to settle it quickly he’d be happy to take them on, mano a mano, in single combat to decide the whole thing. When one morning, without warning, the kid took up the challenge, his fellow soldiers freaked. They tried to give him armour. They tried to give him a sword, a battle-axe, a mace, anything. The kid refused the best weapons of an entire army. He knew he’d never win on the enemy’s terms.

Instead, he picked up a slingshot. He stood out of range of Goliath’s sword, and figured out the one point where the giant’s fancy armor was useless. All of the sudden “crazy” was just plain smart.

That’s a 2000-year old story. Here’s a more recent one:

In 1991, some of the biggest multinationals in the world were poised to start exploring for oil and minerals in the waters of Antarctica. They were at the negotiating table with a dozen nations, sharpening their knives, tucking their napkins into their collars, salivating openly, ready to divide the pie. Antarctica was going to be the next big oil rush. Anyone who thought they could stop them was crazy.

Greenpeace… Greenpeace… white courtesy telephone please.…

For the most part, I was a mere witness to this campaign. But what I witnessed would change forever the way that I look upon lost causes.

Me and McTaggart at Rose Cottage in 1985

The crazy I worked for in those days was the chairman of Greenpeace International, David McTaggart. With a handful of like-minded nutjobs — Kelly Rigg, Steve Sawyer, Jim Barnes, Roger Wilson to name a few — he shoved Greenpeace into a battle that was way out of our league. He bought a boat. He got a tycoon to donate a helicopter. He ignored internal democratic process and the opposition of our biggest office. He declared we were going to set up a permanent base, and figuratively piss in the snow that the Antarctic Treaty parties claimed belonged to no nation, and yet had divided up among the countries that maintained permanent bases.

In short, Greenpeace put a foot down in the snow, won a place at that table, and drew the world’s attention to plans to carve up the world’s last wilderness, a place that had been dedicated to peace and science. At a truly stupid level of human, financial, and reputational risk, we parked a base camp at the doorstep of McMurdo station. We cranked up a global media machine, a network of high level political ninjas, we recruited Ted Turner, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and Jacque Cousteau to speak out and work behind the scenes for the cause.

One by one, the nations that didn’t think anyone cared about the frozen continent woke up to the sound of voices raised in protest. One by one, they joined a growing movement of governments and organisations in saying “no” to the oil giants.

Against all expectations, including our own, we won a moratorium on oil and mineral exploration for 50 years.

Crazy” won the battle for the Antarctic. But there’s a new battle looming at the other end of the Earth, and this time it’s against “insane.”

The Arctic is melting due to global warming. Faster than anyone predicted, with more devastating consequences on world weather, and the potential to so change the flow of ocean currents that England and Ireland could become as cold as Norway. The cause: the burning of fossil fuels. So how does humanity respond to this wake up call?

By seeing the quick buck to be made drilling for oil in those newly ice-free seas, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. And once again, governments have stood aside, and only a handful of activists stand toe to toe with the oil giants.

What’s at stake today is more than just a frozen wilderness, however: it’s the entire future of our planet.

Scientists tell us we have a mere 50 months to slow the march toward a global 2 degree temperature rise. By 2020, we’ll need to be well on the road to fundamentally changing the way we power and feed our world, or risk a climate catastrophe that makes today’s droughts, hurricanes, tsunamis, storms and floods seem like child’s play. It seems almost impossible that we can meet that deadline and turn things around.

The hope lies in that “almost.”

And when I think about how we stop a juggernaut like the oil industry, I think back to how we did it back in the 1990s, and I come to this conclusion:

The defining battle of our time is whether we can draw a line in the ice, and keep the oil industry out of the Arctic. 


Because it’s winnable. Because it’s a stage where the lines are stark and black and white. Because Polar Bear cubs clinging for dear life to shrinking ice floes provide an easy fable with mass appeal that speaks to the threat of human children clinging to a shrinking rock as the waters rise around them. And because the forces that are battling climate

The trick is to stay out of the injunction zone.

change need a high-visibility battleground where we can take this giant down.

In the Arctic we can win a victory that emboldens the forces battling for wind and solar, a victory that causes the now-strong armies of coal and oil around the world to take one faltering step backward. We, like David, need to find Goliath’s weak spot: the place where our small slingshot of public protest can knock him down.

That place is the Arctic. If we raise a big enough voice, if we challenge the oil industry with the audacity of belief that we can win this thing, we will win this thing. But it’s going to take a big, loud, planetary voice. And it’s going to take action. And it’s going to fail unless you are all in.

If you’re like most readers of this blog, every day you get asked to sign petitions. Every day you get asked to send emails. What I’m asking you to do today is to do that, but do more than that: to join a movement — to figure out your own way to make this impossible dream come true. I don’t care, personally, whether you do that through Greenpeace, through another group, or through your own private efforts — this effort will only succeed if it’s broad and deep. Yes, it starts with signing up to an email list, but this is much more. We’re going to be challenging everyone who becomes an arctic defender to do things that go far beyond clicking a link or making a donation. This isn’t going to be just easy stuff.

We’re going to ask you to help slay a giant. We’re going to ask you pick up a slingshot.

1. Sign up as an Arctic Defender at Arctic Rising. YES, a mailing list. But you’re crazy, remember?

2. Make this battle your own. Figure out your own way to lob a snowball at anyone who wants to drill the Arctic. Recruit more Arctic Defenders. Send this blog to someone who doesn’t think about this stuff. Create an Angry-Birds-like app in which Polar Bears throw snowballs at Shell Rigs. Write an editorial in your local paper. Dress up as a melting iceberg for Halloween.

Go crazy.

It’s the only way to change the world.

54 thoughts on “Crazy Davids vs Insane Shelliaths”

  1. This is a great campaign, the message has been written on the wall for a long time, along with many other campaigns concerning exploitation and abuse. The symptoms could not be clearer, but where is the core disease. There is just one thing missing in all campaigns: How are 7 billion people going to change their destruction contributing lifestyle. November 25, International Global Consciousness Day 2012, the 2nd since 2011, passing by like just another day:

  2. That was always my thoughts on the importance of the Arctic Campaign, but never had the words, just beautiful and inspiring, thank you Brian! (alreay retweeted)

  3. I pazzi sono gli altri, quelli che mettono la testa sotto la sabbia e non vogliono vedere!!! Andiamo pazzi, andiamo avanti cosi’.

  4. I signed when the petition counted only 500.000 people, and it was amazing. More than three people signed in each second that flew by, and the petition was just growing like crazy. Right now, after surpassing the two million signatures, it is growing more slowly, but by God it is still growing. Thankfully, there are still people like you that spread the word with wonderful blogs such as this one. We CAN win this, let’s do it!

  5. A thousand thank you’s for this fantastic post. Your wonderfully “even-handed” approach and the sincere tone which is so apparent, are utterly compelling and most importantly, I think, instil a sense of hope in the reader. Something that is in all too short supply these days. And shining the light of hope on a “hopeless” cause, as we all know, is a very motivating factor. I’m very inspired 🙂

  6. This is a truely inspiring blog — thanks a million Brian for writing and sharing it. It’s a great piece to share with all our volunteers and frontline campaigners who take this defining canpaign to the streets all across the globe — searching for more and more ‘crazy ones’ to join us. Once our movement becomes strong enough, we’ll be the slingshot! Onwards!

  7. I got goosebumps reading this.. Yes, the time has come for the final showdown. Drama, clear villains, epic scenery but above all else some really amazing concepts — time, humanity, history, hope. 

    We need to evoke the spirit of David McTaggart, not least in the kind of high level external support he managed to bring with him. I would argue that this is a bigger job than Antarctica, but the vision is the same. Capture the public attention, rescue optimism from the clutches of apathy. This really is an era defining battle, and one I’m proud to be a part of!

    1. You’re right, James. It is a bigger job, not least because they’ve already started. Antarctica was politically easier for many governments, because the drilling hadn’t begun. Shell and Gazprom can moan about investment they’ve already made going to waste, and turn many a politician’s ear. 

      Glad you’re a part of this battle too.

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