#Arctic30: The triumph of oil rights over human rights

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.

Russian Security Services Seize Arctic Sunrise
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.
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.

That tyrant has as much stran­gle­hold on human rights, indige­nous rights, the rights to free speech and assem­bly, and the right to a free press as a deal­er has over a des­per­ate hero­ine addict’s every hour. Make no mis­take, our addic­tion is des­per­ate. Just as a junky who has run out of veins in their arms and legs will shoot up between their fin­gers, the oil in the Arc­tic is only attrac­tive because it’s all that’s left. It’s hard and cost­ly to get to, it pos­es mas­sive safe­ty, envi­ron­men­tal, and rep­u­ta­tion­al risks. It’s cur­rent­ly a break-even ven­ture at best. But Big Oil knows that as sup­ply decli­nes, price is going to sky­rock­et — because they’re active­ly ensur­ing that demand remains high by brib­ing and bul­ly­ing every gov­ern­ment on the plan­et to ignore the warn­ing signs of cli­mate change, avoid putting a price on car­bon, con­tin­ue sub­si­dis­ing coal and oil, and stall the devel­op­ment of renew­able ener­gy.

It’s not just Rus­sia. Tim deChristo­pher served a pris­on term in the US for the audac­i­ty of imper­son­at­ing an oil com­pa­ny and bid­ding on oil tracts in a nation­al park. He was told to shut up. With a jail cell.

Ken Saro-Wiwa’s non-vio­lent protest again­st the col­lu­sion of gov­ern­ment and oil in Nige­ria? He was told to shut up. With a jail cell. Then a rope. His sto­ry end­ed with his exe­cu­tion, and hor­ror in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty at the rev­e­la­tions of human rights vio­la­tions that a state was will­ing to enforce to ensure it remained in the good graces of an oil com­pa­ny.

Gazprom and Rus­sian secu­ri­ty may be behav­ing like anti-free-speech thugs in threat­en­ing 28 activists and 2 jour­nal­ists with 15 years in pris­on, but it’s not moral­ly dis­tinct from oil com­pa­nies turn­ing the US gov­ern­ment into a whol­ly owned sub­sidiary, ready to wage war, ignore sci­ence, and impris­on the inno­cent at their master’s bid­ding.

Researchers have a name for it: the “Repres­sion effect.” They’ve found a cor­rre­la­tion between extrac­tive indus­tries like coal and oil and increased cor­rup­tion, author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment, gov­er­nance fail­ures, and con­flict. They’ve found that resource wealth retards democ­ra­ti­za­tion by enabling the gov­ern­ment to bet­ter fund the appa­ra­tus of repres­sion. And we know the impact of Big Oil mon­ey in US elec­tions, where cor­po­rate enti­ties are grant­ed per­son­hood under the law and so have “rights” to buy any con­gress­man or sen­a­tor they please.

Whether it’s the Burme­se army enslav­ing vil­lages to lay the Yadana and Yeta­gun pipeli­nes or the pro­ceeds from the Chad-Cameroon pipeline being used to weaponize a civil war, or Chevron’s “Human Rights Hit Men” in the Ecuado­ri­an rain­forest, The Arc­tic 30 are sim­ply the lat­est vic­tims of Big Oil’s clear­ing away of every­thing in its path, includ­ing human rights, to get the next fix to sell to its enslaved depen­dent.

But here’s a secret about tyrants: they over­play their hands. And when they do, the peo­ple they dis­dain as pow­er­less tend to rise up and

The Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland harbour by two limpett mines placed by French DGSE agents, killing photographer Fernando Pereira.
The Rain­bow War­rior was sunk in Auck­land har­bour by two limpett mines placed by French DGSE agents, killing pho­tog­ra­pher Fer­nan­do Pereira.

demon­strate exact­ly what pow­er looks like. When the French gov­ern­ment over­played its hand in 1985 by sink­ing the Rain­bow War­rior to “antic­i­pate” her tak­ing action again­st nuclear weapons test­ing in the Paci­fic, they set off a tsunami of protest in the Paci­fic — a bil­lion acts of courage rang­ing from small boat own­ers join­ing a flotil­la that sailed half way across the Paci­fic to stop the next test, to New Zealand mak­ing polit­i­cal choic­es to fore­go export income in the name of jus­tice, to restau­rants choos­ing to turn down the prof­its of sell­ing French wine. The French gov­ern­ment lost that bat­tle; the plan­et won.

If we have any hope of over­throw­ing Big Oil, it’s going to take anoth­er bil­lion acts of courage — from politi­cians turn­ing away from cam­paign dona­tions in the name of their children’s future, to com­mu­ni­ties say­ing “no” to easy mon­ey from frack­ing, to con­sumers resist­ing the can­dy-man crooked-fin­ger beck­on­ing of sub­sidised dirty ener­gy and the whis­pered assur­ances that every­thing will be alright, if we sim­ply accept the world as it is, don’t make a fuss, and shut up and buy.

I’ve got 30 friends wak­ing up to their 31st morn­ing in a grim jail today, remind­ing me just how much the Big Oil Tyrant fears peo­ple speak­ing out and tak­ing action.

And all that does is renew my com­mit­ment to speak­ing out and tak­ing action.


24 thoughts on “#Arctic30: The triumph of oil rights over human rights”

  1. How long you ask? As long as you can dri­ve a car to your lit­tle ral­lies, instead of walk­ing or rid­ing your bicy­cle. As long as you have heat for your home and elec­tric­i­ty for our cities. Can’t you jerks see beyond the end of your nose that were it not for oil and gas and coal, the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca would be like a Third World coun­try, or worse.

  2. def­i­nite­ly keep step­ping on their toes and make sure they under­stand how bad this all is for their pock­ets becuase that’s what real­ly con­cerns them

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