Eco-warriors' five least cunning stunts

Over Christmas and New Year, an Australian expedition to the Antarctic, supposedly about scientific research but really an opportunity to highlight climate change, rather embarrassingly got stuck in sea ice. The organisers and crew were thankfully rescued - their red faces no doubt acting as rescue beacons - but only at the expense of apparently completely contradicting the idea that climate change is a serious problem round the South Pole.

If only the organisers had paid a bit more attention to some previous eco-stunts, they might have saved themselves the trouble.

5) Green Jesus

Environmentalists are often touchy about the idea that their views constitute some kind of secular religion. But when the UN organised a conference in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, which agreed the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the organisers decided to give the holy seal to just such an awkward parallel between environmentalism and religion by bathing the world famous statue of Christ the Redeemer in green light. It might have made a great demonstration of German low-energy lighting, but in the home of football, it was an open goal for climate sceptics.

4) #GreenpeaceFAIL

In June 2012, a video, which appeared to show a PR cock-up at a private party to launch Shell’s Arctic drilling operations, went viral online, accompanied by the hashtag #ShellFAIL. It was soon revealed to be a hoax, created by Greenpeace along with a group called Yes Men and Occupy Seattle. Within days, letters were being fired out at Greenpeace by Shell’s lawyers, threatening legal action against the spread of ‘defamatory’ claims about the company. Except that the letters were also part of the hoax.

Then, a website appeared called, apparently a puff website talking up the opportunities of Arctic exploration, and offering users the chance to create slogans for a Shell advertising campaign. Of course, most users used the opportunity to ridicule Shell and its Arctic plans. What a PR disaster! Except, of course, the website was a hoax, too.

As a damning critique of Shell’s Arctic operations, it was a failure. As a demonstration of Big Green cynicism, and the childishness of much modern leftist politics, it was a huge success.

3) 10:10 blows your mind

Okay, we have featured this godawful advert before on spiked plus, but it is such a hilariously colossal misjudgement that we couldn’t help but put it in this week’s list, too. In October 2010, Richard Curtis - writer of such romcoms as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually - joined forces with filmmaker and activist Franny Armstrong to produce ‘No Pressure’, a four-minute short film to promote the 10:10 climate campaign.

It was certainly an attention-grabbing work. It opens with a schoolteacher blowing two children to smithereens who failed to take her suggestion of taking part in 10:10 seriously enough. As we digest the image of their blood splattered all over their classmates, we move on to watch the same fate befall various other people - including ex-footballer David Ginola and X-Files star Gillian Anderson. The film was withdrawn on its day of release as the ‘edgy’ film appalled and offended supporters and critics alike. ‘Take action on climate change or you and your children will be brutally murdered’ is not, it turns out, a heartwarming, popular message.

2) Poles apart

In 2008, adventurer, long-distance swimmer and eco-activist Lewis Pugh set off with a small team (accompanied by a big boat) to try to kayak from Svalbard in the Arctic Circle 1,200 kilometres to the North Pole. The idea was to demonstrate how the North Pole had become ice free. ‘The expedition will highlight how thin the sea ice has become in recent years.
We are calling for world leaders to take a stand against the destruction of the Arctic’, declared the website of Pugh’s Polar Defense Project.

Unfortunately, Pugh and chums - including Richard Branson’s son, Sam - had to abandon the effort after 135 kilometres due to, er, the sheer amount of ice in their way.

1) Brent Spar

No, not a convenience store in north-west London, but the name of a North Sea oil storage and tanker loading buoy owned by Shell. The platform became obsolete in 1991 and in 1995, after discussions with the UK government, it was decided to dump it in the Atlantic, 250 kilometres west of Scotland in 2.5 kilometres deep water. Any remaining junk in the platform that did leak would be so heavily diluted as to be of no threat to anyone.

‘Screw that’, thought Greenpeace. On 30 April 1995, the organisation’s activists occupied the platform, staying there for three weeks, claiming that Brent Spar contained 5,500 tonnes of oil, not the 50 tonnes stated by Shell. Meanwhile a campaign against Shell was fiercely pursued across northern Europe, including petrol-station boycotts. The German government got involved, lodging a formal objection against the deep-sea disposal; German chancellor Helmut Kohl apparently berated UK prime minister John Major on the subject at a G7 meeting in Canada. On 20 June, with towing already underway, Shell admitted defeated and the platform was hauled to Norway instead.

A great success for Greenpeace, then? No. After all the fuss and bother, Greenpeace’s claims about the contents of Brent Spar were found to be wildly inaccurate and attracted considerable criticism. A perfectly sensible and safe disposal method was replaced with a more hazardous option of decommissioning in port, a process completed in 1999. The whole affair may have scared the hell out of Shell, but it also left Greenpeace looking like lunatics intent on putting the ‘right’ message ahead of paying attention to the facts.


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