Greenpeace: talking out of a polar bear’s arse
A recent Greenpeace protest only demonstrated that environmentalism is not a mass movement.
Earlier this month, around 3,000 Greenpeace members and supporters marched from Parliament to Shell’s London offices to protest against what they claim is the oil giant’s designs on the Arctic. A giant, roaring polar bear puppet hauled by Greenpeace volunteers along the mile-long route led the procession. At the end of the march, a backdoor opened in the rear of the polar bear, named Aurora, to serve as a platform for the speakers. They proceeded to address the rain-soaked rally about the evils of drilling for oil and gas in one of the most bleak, infertile and unpopulated regions of the planet.
First to speak out of the polar bear’s arse was Greenpeace’s UK director John Sauven. ‘We want this company, Shell, who are leading the charge into the Artic [sic] that [have] headquarters here to hear loud and clear that people around the world do not want you to drill in the Artic [sic]‘. The director of the organisation that wants to ‘save the Arctic’ cannot even pronounce its name. Sauven was followed by Kiera Kolson and Besha Blondin, who are described by the organisation as ‘First Nation people’ from the Northwest Territories in Canada. ‘My land is not for sale’, said Kolson, who called on the Queen to honour the treaties between the Crown and the First Nation people, which apparently might protect the Arctic from the evil oil company.
But Kolson and Sauven’s appeals for feudal institutions to prevent the development of the Arctic face a number of problems. Kolson, an artist rather than a politician, doesn’t appear to have any qualification to speak on behalf of anybody, much less a people whose lives would be hard indeed were it not for the fossil fuels that heat their homes and power the planes, ships and trucks that bring supplies from warmer climes. Moreover, selling the land or otherwise allowing drilling to continue might make life at such extremes more comfortable. Unemployment among aboriginal Canadians is 25 per cent, and their income is half the average.
Just as Greenpeace uses a puppet polar bear to project its voice, it makes puppets out of people seemingly living authentic, traditional, and uncorrupted lifestyles. But Greenpeace’s instrumental use of poor people’s victim status was dismissed by the Inuit Circumpolar Council in May. ‘We collectively reject Greenpeace’s questionable use of the Indigenous voice as a front for its own campaign’, said the council in a press release. ‘Like everyone else, we do need and want jobs, employment, income security, training, education, improved health, better housing, and other downstream benefits and opportunities for our communities and families.’
Greenpeace’s sentimental appeal for solidarity with animals and indigenous populations is equally problematic. Barely 3,000 protesters – the group’s estimate – stood outside Shell’s HQ demanding the company abandon its plans. More people could be found visiting a single supermarket that Sunday afternoon. If this was a demonstration, all it succeeded in demonstrating was that this large green NGO cannot even mobilise its own 130,000 supporters in the UK for a cause as seemingly important as saving the Arctic. The spectacle on the street in London, then, demonstrates that there is no popular environmental movement. There are few adults in Britain, it seems, prepared to embarrass themselves by painting their faces, dressing up as animals, and waving the-end-is-nigh placards in public.
But what about the Arctic: is it in immediate peril? Greenpeace is not in favour of drilling for oil anywhere, which somewhat defeats the logic of this new emphasis on the Arctic. It is merely a symbol of an unspoiled ideal, populated with polar bears and indigenous people, with only contrived, emotional significance. And is Shell really leading the campaign to make use of this largely desolate, hostile and vast landscape? In fact, a number of oil companies have interests in the Arctic, including Shell, BP, Exxon, Statoil and Conoco. But pretending that just one company is ‘leading the charge’ serves Greenpeace better than telling the truth.
The story that the entire Arctic region is in peril, and that this threat is the product of just one company’s actions, is a strategy intended to demonstrate the NGO’s muscle, and to turn complex matters that emerge from the process of development into a simple moral story of goodies versus baddies.
Ben Pile blogs at Climate Resistance.
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