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. Inspi­ra­tional 🙂 but try to keep it as short as pos­si­ble, so that the idea reach­es the new recruits eas­i­ly

  5. 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!

  6. 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 🙂

  7. 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!

  8. Spot on, Bri­an.

    Thanks for always being an inspi­ra­tion! I can only hope that many more can fol­low your lead!

  9. 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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