As I write this, friends and colleagues and a ship I love are in custody in Murmansk because they made a stand against big oil.
In an armed assault by helicopter, Russian security services seized the Arctic Sunrise on September 19th, 2013
The place they chose to make their stand was in the Russian Arctic, where Gazprom and Shell are building the first rig to exploit a new opportunity to drill where drilling was once impossible: the newly ice-free waters of the once-frozen North.
Two Greenpeace activists boarded the Prirazlomnaya platform to hang a banner, to throw a spotlight on the dangers of oil drilling in the arctic in particular, and our continued reliance on fossil fuels in general. Gazprom was having none of it. Shots were fired at our activists, knives were brandished at them, the coast guard sent a helicopter with armed agents to seize our entire ship — an illegal act under the Law of the Sea against a Dutch-flagged ship in international waters.
But this wasn’t about law. This was about message. And the message was painfully clear. Our activists and the two journalists accompanying them were told to shut up. With jail cells. With a very public show of force to let us, and everyone else who might consider speaking up against them, know exactly who is boss, and what fate awaits those who might consider this a cause to join. They’re talking to you.
This is the dystopic vision of a world in which democracy has been bought with petrodollars, in which human rights can be suspended,
Oil spills are a daily routine at the Rosneft fields in Siberia. An oil spill in the Pechora sea would be impossible to clean up.
ignored, trampled upon. It’s a world in which Planet Earth is occupied by a global tyrant: the fossil fuel industry. Continue reading →
Terrorists have attacked the US in New Orleans and New York. They sent thugs named Katrina and Sandy who destroyed millions of homes and businesses, took prisoners, took lives. In between, they set fire to much of the midwest and scorched the land causing major crop failures and billions in economic loss.
And what’s America doing to hunt down these terrorists and make them pay for the mess they’ve caused?
It’s pushing for more oil exploration, exporting record amounts of coal, building pipelines to the Tar Sands and fracking for gas. That’s like sending charitable donations and willing recruits to the Taliban post-9/11 and calling it retribution. Continue reading →
The US is under attack. Climate change has gone practically unmentioned this election season, despite growing alarm among scientists, the Pentagon’s classification of it as a threat to national security, and record-breaking droughts and Arctic ice melt. So Mother Nature has cleared her throat, and decided to raise the issue herself.
This is the horror film the world has begun to look like — one in which fake photos FROM horror films are indistinguishable from the real thing. One that many in developing countries have already been experiencing for years. One which we will all face more frequently in future. New York City has been overpowered, the Statue of Liberty brought to her knees. Winds that rip cranes from skyscrapers and record-breaking waves that surge over every defense and flood the subways, close the bridges and tunnels, imprison families in their own homes. Shelves picked clean in hardware stores and supermarkets. Uncertainty and fear.
We have someone to thank for this: the fossil fuel industry. The politicians who have ignored their responsibilities as leaders to respond to a threat to the entire planet in favor of pandering to short term interests and lining election coffers with oil money.
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, FORCRYINGOUTLOUD. 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.
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.
I love seeing a room break out in an argument, and there was a great one at yesterday’s “Has Facebook Jumped the Shark” session here at SXSW. The basic question was a marketing one prompted by a controversial Ad Age article that Judy Shapiro of engageSimply wrote: IS it really the greatest gift to advertising ever? IS it really worth 40 Billion? But the panel swung into privacy, ethics, trust, the nature of relationships, the nature of social media, and, thank you very much, activism and climate change.
Instagram by @esavestheworld
Judy Shapiro kicked it off with this killer quote from the Screwtape Letters, containing advice to a demon about how to market the devil to someone:
“Your business is to focus his attention on the stream, teach him to call it real life, and don’t let him ask what he means by real.” A fable for the internet age, written in 1940.
Hank Wasiak of The Concept Farm is an old guy, distinguishedly bald, and a commanding speaker. He told us that he grew up among the old style marketers celebrated in Mad Men, but the industry was smoking something other than tobacco when he joined and that made it quite fun.
He called Facebook a disruptive gift, and he celebrated the fact that the consumer is now in control. Brands live in glass houses. People finally matter. This makes “now” an extraordinary time. But he said Facebook’s only commodity is us, and we will flee if Facebook betrays our trust. He encouraged open Book Branding: “Trust Transparency Truth” as the mantra Facebook needs to follow: it needs to become a brand that emotionally connects with its audience.
Check out the tweet stream (or this great visual capture by @sunnibrown here) for the full report of the rawkous argument about whether Facebook was good for society, bad society, meant people read more or less, what it’s worth to marketers, whether it’s ethical to be selling information that was not provided with knowledge it would be sold, but I thought Wasiak hit the nail on the head: If Facebook is going to survive, it needs to be trusted, transparent, and make people love it so much that they don’t walk away, and by walking away destroy the only asset that makes Facebook valuable.
My point was this: you make an emotional connect with a customer by genuinely caring about them, and their future, by being willing to sacrifice profit if need be to look after people, to nuruture your community, to have a genuine committment to making their experience, and their lives, better.
So compare what Google is doing with major investments in renewable energy and game-changing efficiency measures to battle climate change. I see a company that wants to do more than make money, I see a company that wants to change the world for the better. I see a company that cares about the future of my kids.
How does that compare to Facebook building shiny new data centres and running them on dirty old coal, then ignoring a popular call to go green and pledge to phase out reliance on dirty dangerous fuel?
An activist in the audience at the end of the panel praised Facebook for enabling his ability to get his message out without posters and fliers and mail and the stuff that puts pressure on forests for paper. He loved the fact that he could use Facebook without harming the environment. While I take his point on paper use, that was my cue to run over to a microphone and point out that at Greenpeace we love using Facebook as an activist platform, and the 2.5 million people who fan our pages worldwide do truly amazing things for the environment, but when the data centres that run Facebook run on coal, it’s not without impact. I asked everyone to join us in asking Facebook to pledge to phase out dirty dangerous fuel, and was pumped and pleased to hear agreeing applause. If there was anyone in the audience from Facebook, I hope they heard that.
Wake up to news that the Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor has suffered an explosion following Japan’s earthquake and Tsunami. Officials don’t know if there’s been a melt down, a plume of smoke that may be radioactive is spewing skyward, the evacuation zone is being expanded beyond 12 kilometers, and every nightmare scenario the environmental movement has talked about since the 1970s is on the table.
Seriously. Why is every journalist who ever let a nuclear industry shill talk about modern reactor safety not now cutting live to the industry’s promoters to “Remind us, Patrick Moore, about the reasons you gave us that these reactors are safe and Chernobyl can never happen again.”
FUCKYOU, World Nuclear Association:
“Even for a nuclear plant situated very close to sea level, the robust sealed containment structure around the reactor itself would prevent any damage to the nuclear part from a tsunami, though other parts of the plant might be damaged. No radiological hazard would be likely.”
Fuck every one of you who soft-pedaled the risks, who fudged the figures, who sold a trusting public on the most expensive and dangerous way in the world to boil water.
Every one of you should turn over every dime you earned over to Doctors without Borders — who are assembling teams now to help the victims of the tsunami and earthquake. All we can do is hope that they won’t have a meltdown to deal with as well.
I’m stuck. I don’t know whether to go watch robot dogs play soccer, attend a lecture on how online games change your brain chemistry, share stories of famous Social Media #Fails like Nestle’s response to Greenpeace’s Kit-Kat campaign, or catch a workshop in iPad app design.
I’m at South by Southwest (SXSW), the Geek Glastonbury, the Mecca of Social Media, the Davos of Digital, the Haight Ashbury of Hashtags. It’s also one of the places where the fate of a warming world, ever hungrier for the electricity to power its status updates, will be decided.
Every year here in Austin, Texas, adjacent to a world-class film festival and a world-class music festival, a six-day interactive festival draws digital creatives, software engineers, designers, social media mavens, angel investors, content wranglers, journalists, and some of the most competitive and innovative entrepreneurs on the planet.
I’m here, along with a handful of folks from Oxfam, PETA, Rainforest Action Network, Amnesty, WWF, and a dozen other charities and activist groups, to learn what new tools of communication and interaction are coming down the pipe, what’s new in ways of forming social bonds through digital bits, and consider how we can use them to reach more people, set off more sparks of awareness, and light more brushfires under the butts of governments and corporations that don’t walk lightly on the Earth.
But there’s also a voyeuristic element that I’ve learned to appreciate in 5 years of being an eco-petunia in this dot com onion patch: you can see pretty far out over the horizon here, because the people who walk these halls have a handy trick for predicting the future: they invent it.
Twitter debuted here in 2006. Kindled by big screens running hashtag searches in each of the venues, it spread through the conference so fast it singed our eyebrows. It was breathtaking, and a bit scary, to open an account and find the SXSW hive mind was ALIVE on thousands of screens and devices. Invisible conversations were taking place in packed auditoriums, silently cheering, booing, and debating with points that speakers were making from the stage. Mediocre panels emptied as rumors rode electrons through the ether of what was rawking in the next room. Parties and meetups and commerce and swag-trade were busting out like popcorn. It was as if this gathering had evolved, overnight, an entirely new nervous system.
But while this is a place of happy mythologies in which beautiful debutant applications walk down the velvet staircase to awed appreciation, and ingénue content gets discovered at the soda fountain and makes it big, there’s a few distopic voices rumbling warnings out across the crowd. It’s unsettling, like distant thunder at a picnic.
It’s no coincidence that one of the founding titans of this festival is a futurist and science fiction writer, Bruce Sterling. Sterling was one of the first generation Digirati, a leading light at The Well, an early text-only watering hole back when portable PCs were the size of sewing machines and an internet connection was negotiated through high-pitched call-and-response audio symphonies conducted through suction cups placed over the mouth and earpiece of a wire-tethered telephone.
Sterling imagines the future for a living. He and Jon Lebkowsky and a handful of others had the vision to realise these new-fangled computer devices and the web that allowed them to share white pages with black text and blue hyperlinks around the world might just change society profoundly some day, and there ought to be a place to talk about what that future might look like.
Sterling speaks here every year, and amidst the youthful exuberance, the impossible wealth, the wide-eyed gaze out over horizons through rose-tinted glasses, he speaks the unpopular truths that his historical shadow, Cassandra the sooth-sayer, was once castigated for.
Last year, he suggested that those who see the future have only a gift for seeing what others don’t see in the present.
“I hear pundits ask ‘Gee what would an extended depression where the means of production collapsed look like?’ Well it looks like Detroit.
Or ‘What would an environmental crisis look like, in which extreme weather events were ravishing our cities due to global warming?’ It looks like post-Katrina New Orleans.
The problems that we see today, that we have not dealt with, are going to fester and we’re going to get excoriated for them.”
Those who invent the future have a responsibility for what that future’s going to look like. And for the people here in Austin, that future right now is bright with electricity. Unfortunately, it’s also dark with coal soot.
The IT industry that fuels our Facebook Likes, our blogs and tweets is set to contribute 15% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2020. Already, today, the internet consumes so much electricity that, were it a country, it would be the fifth largest in the world. The global warming to which it contributes costs 300,000 lives every year. Companies like Google are making pioneer investments in renewable energy, and across the IT sector there’s excitement about smart grids and other economic opportunities as we contemplate what a world without fossil fuels might look like.
So when Facebook decided to build two shiny new data centres fueled largely by dirty old coal, we despaired. We expect a cool, cutting edge company to follow a better path than riding shotgun down a coal chute.
We’ve put out a challenge to the amazing people at Facebook, some of them here in Austin: publicly commit to a timeline phasing out dirty electricity sources (coal and nukes) and adopt a company wide renewable energy target in 2011.
Why do we highlight Facebook? Because within the industry, they have transformative powers. These are the people who are reinventing the way we make and maintain friends, people who are reinventing the way revolutions are expressed, people who are reinventing the nature of our world. People who have the power to reinvent the way we create and consume electricity, and help turn a distopic nightmare of destabilizing climate chaos into a bright green future with more jobs, cleaner air, and enough food and water to keep our world alive.
Help tell Facebook, here at SXSW and at the Greenpeace Unfriend Coal page, that a renewable energy future is a vision that we Like, and want to Share.
P.S. If you work for Facebook and are at SXSW, drop me a line at brianfit58-AT-gmail.com or @brianfit at twitter to talk about how we can advocate inside Facebook for support for renewable energy. If you’re a blogger at SXSW and you want to cover this issue, drop me a line and get some materials (and Swag!)
I'm Brian Fitzgerald and this is my personal blog. I'm a digital rabblerouser at Greenpeace, where I've worked and volunteered for 30+ years, allowing me to combine my love of technology, globally people-powered trouble-making, hippy do-goodery, and boats.
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