Earlier this month, I visited the east coast of Greenland on the Arctic Sunrise, the Greenpeace ship that Russian authorities confiscated last year, detaining its 30 crew members for two months, after the crew tried to scale one of the country's oil rigs.
My project, as a member of the political activist group the Yes Men, in partnership with Funny or Die and stars Alexander Skarsgard and Jack McBrayer, was to produce some short films that would lightheartedly popularize the beauty, value and importance of the fast-melting Arctic, to fit into Greenpeace's campaign to establish a sanctuary in international waters around the North Pole, as well as a complete ban on oil companies going up there to — get ready! — drill for more of the oil that's causing the melt that makes more oil accessible. (I know that's a convoluted sentence. But so is the inhuman logic that drives Arctic drilling.)
The battle is far from over — the end-goal is an international accord against Arctic drilling — but on Monday morning, Shell, the last oil company still trying to explore for oil up there, gave up on its project. And one of the main reasons the company failed was activists: the "kayaktivists" who delayed Shell's drill ship this summer, the coalition of groups that had already forced Shell to halve their summer ambitions, and the sustained trashing they've received at the hands of organizations like Greenpeace. The Yes Men did our part as well, working with Greenpeace on a (fake) Shell campaign to promote the company's (real) crazy plans, as well as on an iceberg-distribution scheme on the streets of Manhattan.
Given that Shell had spent $4 billion on lobbying alone (to obtain drilling permits), this can only count as a stupendous defeat for the company, and a stupendous victory for activists. But it really is only the start.
Shell said it "continues to see important exploration potential in the basin," and to make sure the Arctic remains safe, we definitely do need a sanctuary.
The melting landscape that I saw, flew over and walked on in Greenland was hands-down the most beautiful natural setting I've ever witnessed. But its importance really has nothing to do with its beauty.
If global temperatures rise just a little too much, and the beautiful Greenland ice melts too fast, we won't only lose some gorgeous landscapes. Rather, thanks to the feedback loops that are already so close to the point of no return, we'll risk losing everything we hold dear — from Bach to democracy. And it'll happen much more quickly than previously imagined.
Yet oil companies must either extract their trillions of dollars of underground wealth, or crumble. And if companies do manage to access much of that wealth — in the Arctic or elsewhere — we'll be just that much closer to losing pretty much everything.
So crumble the oil companies must. And although they have lots of power, we do too: Mass movements win. Any time millions of people demand change, change happens.
We in the U.S. no longer have slavery, 16-hour workdays, child labor or segregation — and not just because those practices make no sense, but because millions of people took action. We will soon no longer have fossil fuels, either. We just need a mass movement that's bigger, angrier and more radical than today's climate movement.
It might also involve funny videos.