This is the (mostly) true story of a story that wanted to come true.
It was February 8th, 1970, and a guy named Jim Bohlen was having breakfast with his wife, Marie, and complaining about what a bunch of hippies he had to deal with. Jim was a member of the Sierra Club in Vancouver.
He was born an American, but he’d moved to Canada to keep his son from being drafted into the Vietnam War, and because of a crisis of conscience about his own job. He was an engineer with Boeing, and had helped design the Atlas Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile, designed to deliver nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union. Like many of the time, he’d become horrified at the prospect of nuclear war, and decided he wanted no part in it.
Vancouver in those days was a hotbed of peacenikkery. And it was particularly bothered about a bomb which the US was going to test at Amchitka in the Aleutian Islands, which wasn’t very neighbourly.
Now this bomb was designed not to test the bomb, but to test the island. The US was trying to figure out what the seismic signal of nuclear weapons were, and how to distinguish a bomb signature from an earthquake signature. So they’d chosen a place where they had seismic data on Earthquakes, because in 1964 the area had experienced the Great Alaska Earthquake, the second largest earthquake recorded in the history of the world at that time, 9.2 on the Richter scale. The Tsunami it set off travelled all the way across the Pacific, and did damage as far away as Hawaii and Japan. 133 people died, and Vancouver suffered millions of dollars in property damage.
So let’s say there was some concern about the idea of setting off a bomb 400 times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, drilled into the Earth over a major fault line, on an island, in order to test seismic reactions. You take that and you combine it with the fact that this is Richard Nixon testing a weapon of mass destruction in the backyard of the greatest concentration of war resistors, peace activists, and hippies ever assembled in one place, and you get some idea of the scale of resistance these tests were facing in Vancouver.
But they’d done everything they thought a protest movement could do. They’d picketed the border. They’d waved signs. They’d signed petitions. They’d asked Canada to officially complain. And the war machine ignored them.
It’s 4am in the morning and the Arctic Sunrise lies at anchor just off Den Helder, the last Dutch port before you enter the North Sea. I’m in the campaign office, a cabin close by the bridge that reeks of human beings spending too many days in too close proximity under too much stress. Here the action team has just learned that their last 24 hours of planning and training to stop an oil rig from moving into place in the Arctic have been for nought. The rig has got wind of Greenpeace’s presence in the region, doubling its speed. We can’t catch them in time to provide the planned dramatic backdrop to the speech of Kumi Naidoo, our Executive Director, before the United Nations to call for an end to oil drilling in the Arctic.
What the team doesn’t know is that this is a false alarm. It’s designed to test their sleep-deprived decision making, strain the team and its leader, demonstrate the importance of backup contingency plans at sea, and stress their overall performance in tomorrow’s action. If they analyse the data closely, they’ll figure out it makes no sense and start to question it. If they don’t, they’ll spend the next hour being observed to see how resiliently they react, what they prioritise, and how well they lay out contingency alternatives. Then they’ll learn that the information of the rig’s acceleration resulted from a computer glitch, and they can return to the plan they’ve cooked up with the crew and spent most of the night preparing, but an hour the poorer in preparation time and sleep.
This is an On Board Campaigners Training, a regular feature of the Greenpeace International Action Team’s curriculum to help accelerate the transition of promising troublemaker talent into seasoned salty dogs. Continue reading →
Don’t bother reading this blog. Just watch this video. Share it. Send it. Like it. Comment on it. Get it on as many screens as possible.
And now that you’ve done that:
Back in the 70s and 80s, Greenpeace ran campaigns to drive toxic production out of Europe and North America. In those days, we pushed for government legislation and intra-governmental agreements to stop things like the dumping of titanium dioxide in the North Sea, factories that turned rivers red or blue depending on what dye process was running, and pipes that simply ran wastewater into whatever waterway was handy, contents often unknown and unmonitored by any government agency.
This was a nasty piece of work. Allied Chemical in New Jersey had found a loophole and was dispersing waste through a freaking SPRINKLERSYSTEM to avoid prohibitions on land burial and river disposal. Their solution effectively did both, but was entirely legal. Under arrest from left to right: Lisa Bunin, JR Yeager, Marc Gottschalk, Brian Fitzgerald, Kelly Rigg
Thing was, while we succeeded in clearing up rivers across our homelands, we drove an awful lot of those processes and factories to China, India, and Mexico. Unfinished business! Team #Detox at Greenpeace have picked up the job, however, but with a #PeoplePower twist that illustrates a pretty big shift in Greenpeace strategy and the battlefield on which we engage across the last 30 years. Continue reading →
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’m still hungover from the Greenpeace Digital Mobilisation Skillshare: and I’m not just talkin about the after party after-effects (Pirates, Ninjas, iPad band, say no more…); I’m talking about the profound kind of headache you get from imbibing so much heady and thought-provoking information that you come home reeling. As Michael Baillie(@mikebailllie) put it, the whole thing was “SupercalifragilisticexpedaliAWESOME.”
OK, so I see a tweet from Bruce Sterling, the chairman of cyberpunk, that mentions he’s in Amsterdam speaking at the Next Nature conference. So I tweet an invitation to come visit the new Rainbow Warrior, telling him I can get him the captain’s tour. Next thing I know, he’s there on the gangplank. Of course as luck would have it, I can’t find the captain, but Sterling is happy to settle for the “Galley Slave tour.” Which is what he gets.
For the next twenty minutes, I had the INSANE privilege of listening to his stream of conscience patter that bounced around the rigging and ricocheted off into realms cyberpunk, political, design, artistic, and social. He showed interest in signage and stuff that none of the tens of thousands of people who have taken the tour of the ship to date showed any apparent interest in. He was intensely interested in the chairs in the campaign office. Not particularly special chairs, I’d have thought, but something of the professor of design caught his eye, and he was tipping them up to examine workmanship and labels.
The engine room and the ship hydraulics systems, with their orderly maze of valves and pipes and wires, sent him riffing on a visit he’d made to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The single US style electric plug on a ship full of European standard fixtures caused him to call it the “last lonely vestige of American imperialism.” He was amused by the tiny little telex-style machines on the bridge that printed out pirate warnings and distress calls — I think largely because it’s probably been a while since he’s seen dot matrix technology at work.
In the engine room. With strange effects. Erm, thanks, Camera+
Now, this really was like entertaining geek royalty, but there’s a kicker. The guy gave me the shirt off his back. I admired his “Next Nature” shirt, which featured 200 corporate logos made of stylized animals, and showed him our supporter banner, which features somewhat similarly stylized real animals. He saw the similarity too, said “it’s a sign” and gave me his t. We had it out in the lounge that afternoon playing “guess the corporation” and remembering a study in which children recognised corporate logos at a ridiculously higher rate than they could identify basic plant and animal species.
As if entertaining one of the fathers of cyberpunk aboard a ship that looks like it sailed out of a wormhole from the future isn’t enough geek cred, I got to meet Thom Yorke of Radiohead today. He’s sitting about 10 feet away chatting with us here in the campaign office on the Rainbow Warrior as we make 10 knots across the North Sea on three sails, heading for London.
Showed Bruce Sterling around the Rainbow Warrior yesterday, sailing with Thom Yorke today. Am I the luckiest geek on the planet?
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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