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Greenpeace: In Opposing Oil Drilling, Detained “Arctic 30” Are Standing Up for Planet’s 7 Billion

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After more than two months in detention, five members of the Arctic 30 are now free on bail in Russia. The group of 28 activists and two journalists were detained following an attempt to board Russia’s first offshore oil rig. We discuss the case with Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, who says their fate remains uncertain as they continue to face charges of “hooliganism” that carry a maximum prison term of seven years.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: But first we turn to the case of the Arctic 30, the group of activists and journalists who were detained following an attempt to board Russia’s first offshore oil rig. Five members of the Arctic 30 are now free on bail in Saint Petersburg, Russia, after more than two months in detention. Twenty-six have now been granted bail, although Australian Colin Russell, the first to have his case heard, had his pretrial detention extended until February. On Wednesday, a Brazilian activist was released, followed earlier today by three Russians and a fifth member from New Zealand. The fate of the Arctic 30 remains uncertain as they continue to face charges of hooliganism that carry a maximum prison term of seven years.

Earlier today, I spoke with Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo here in Warsaw, Poland, and asked him to respond to the latest news about the Arctic 30.

KUMI NAIDOO: Now, getting bail in Russia is an extremely rare thing, so we are very happy that, in fact, we have succeeded in building enough pressure that that’s encouraged the Russian authorities to grant bail. But our folks will be in limbo still, until we know when the charges are going to be brought and so on. But people need to understand that we are not out of the woods by far. Our folks still face the potential now of seven years in prison. And we don’t know how long the trial will take, how long they might have to be in Russia before they can come home to their families and so on. So we are hoping we can negotiate with the Russian authorities for our folks to be able to return home to their families.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what they did, why they were arrested?

KUMI NAIDOO: Well, essentially, they took—they did exactly the same protest Greenpeace organized and successfully executed last year. I, myself, was involved in it. The idea was to draw attention to the fact that this drilling was about to start happening. Bear in mind, most of the Russian people don’t know, and most of the people in the world don’t know, because it’s such a remote part of the world. So, the first objective was to raise awareness and to bear witness to what was happening. And the second was to make a strong statement saying that we were opposed to the drilling. What they were trying to do was to get onto the outside of the rig, like we did last year.

AMY GOODMAN: And where was this rig?

KUMI NAIDOO: This is in the Barents Sea, which is in sort of the Russian Arctic Ocean, if you want. It’s pretty further to the north of our planet. And just to give you a sense, to get to it from Norway, from Kirkenes, the northern town, seaside town of Norway, it takes you about close to five days of sailing north to get to it. So, you know, we’re talking fairly remote.

So, the objective really was to say that if the science is saying that we need to leave as much as 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves where they are, if we are to stand a chance to make sure that the planet does not warm beyond two degrees from pre-industrial times—and that will most certainly accelerate us to catastrophic climate change—that this is one of the places, absolutely, where we shouldn’t be drilling, from a climate perspective. However, beyond the climate perspective, this part of the world is an extremely fragile part of the world. It has unique biodiversity, such as polar bears, narwhals, Atlantic walruses and so on, which are at threat of extinction as a result of pushing for drilling in this very fragile part of the world.

But most importantly, if there was an oil spill in this part of the world, assuming towards the end of the summer months, the oil would be frozen in the ice for more than six months, causing untold and unknown environmental consequences. The experts say that to clean up the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, for example, it takes at least about 10 years where you can say that actually you have done the most of the cleanup. And still, after 10 years, let’s be clear, you know, we still see effects of Exxon Valdez, for example. But here, the experts say it will take at least 100 years before, you know, you can do a cleanup.

AMY GOODMAN: So, do you plan another action against Gazprom and Russian oil drilling in the Arctic?

KUMI NAIDOO: Well, I think we’ve executed, since the action, since the arrests, the largest numbers of actions against Gazprom. Wherever Gazprom is, we have been engaging. So, for example, Gazprom is a big player in the European gas industry, and they sponsor various football, ice hockey, boat races and so on. And, of course, Gazprom executives are speaking at energy conferences and so on. And I can tell you, just in the last month we have had about 15 actions against Gazprom and its management.

We would say to all energy company leaders, right, from Gazprom to Shell to ExxonMobil and all the rest, as Greenpeace, when we look at you, we see you as an energy company. As an energy company, we cannot blame you, 20 years ago or, say, even 15 years ago, for building energy based on oil, coal and gas. However, now, you need to understand that the scientific consensus is completely clear, and even if the science was not clear, the last decade has seen more than a 10 percent increase in extreme weather events, the very events that the scientists say that that’s how climate change will be looking at. So now you do not have an excuse. The facts are before you. And you need to understand that every cent that you invest in new projects is an investment in the death of our children and their children and future generations.

What we are saying to them is, we don’t expect you to switch off overnight, but let’s do the following things: Stop fresh fossil fuel investments; begin a transition away from your existing energy supply, which is dependent on dirty, brown, fossil fuel-based energy; and begin to develop your capability, your technological expertise and so on in clean, green, renewable technology. Some energy companies are doing it. It’s still too little, too late. But what we are saying is that we are not trying to put any of these companies out of business. What we are wanting to do is put their fossil fuel projects out of business. And sadly, some of these companies, it’s almost the same, because all they have is fossil fuel projects. And they have the technological capability—they don’t have the political will yet—to actually make the transition into clean energy projects.

AMY GOODMAN: Kumi Naidoo, yesterday when you came here to Warsaw to the National Stadium, to the U.N. climate summit, you asked, “Who are the real hooligans?”

KUMI NAIDOO: Well, you know, think about it. Our people first were called “pirates,” and then they were called and now are called “hooligans.” And it’s quite hurtful, actually, because I know the people that are actually involved there. I have met their parents. I have talked to their families and so on. And I find it really distressing because in a situation where the world is so cynical, where our political leaders and our business leaders are suffering from an awful case of cognitive dissonance, where all the signs are saying we need to act, and they’re not willing to act, and when decent people step forward and take a peaceful protest to try to get the world to understand we are running out of time, to be treated the way that they’ve been treated is completely unjust and unfair, and then to be given a label of “hooligan” is terribly unfair.

So, therefore, I’m saying, if you want to look at who are the real hooligans here, the real hooligans are those that are destroying our environment, those that are driving further carbon pollution. And I would say, if you want to attach the label of hooligan, attach it to the CEOs and the leadership of fossil fuel companies and to their allies in governments that actually give them the license to pollute and the license to destroy, you know, current and future generations.

But on the other hand, I say to people, don’t forget, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks were all called not just hooligans, they were called much worse labels before. Today, you know, within a 50-year period, these are the people humanity celebrates as the best people that walked our planet. Nelson Mandela had to spend 27 years in a prison because he was labeled a terrorist and a hooligan. And I hope my colleagues don’t have to spend any more time than what they’ve spent, but history—we have no doubt that history will judge that these 30 people stood up for the seven billion people on the planet and that what they did was just, fair, and should be considered as heroes.

However, the sad truth is, as we, you and I, sit, the power of the corporate media—and bear in mind, for example, Gazprom in Russia is one of the biggest owners of media, right? So, right now in Russia, we are being massacred in the media. State-owned media as well as the Gazprom media, we are being called everything from ecofascists, ecoterrorists, including the al-Qaeda of the environment movement and so on, you know? So, these labels are actually taking us away from asking the question, “Why did they do it?” and why in fact we need to act.

If we look at all the conversations happening here at this COP, those 30 activists are completely aligned with the science that sits in this conference and the urgency that is needed. But sadly, the ability for us to get the world to understand that we are running out of time, that every parent—I mean, right now I would say to any person who is a parent or grandparent, “You’ve got just ask yourself a simple question: Is this going to destroy my children and my grandchildren’s future? Are they going to be able to survive on this planet?” And that question is increasingly becoming: If we continue the way we are, we are putting it at risk. And therefore, you know, sometimes people say it’s too late. There are certain, you know, people who say that it’s too late. I don’t buy that. I think it’s too late for the 10,000 people that lost their lives, you know, in the Philippines last year and this year. It’s too late for the people in Darfur, where climate impacts dried up Lake Chad and is taking away land where people can grow food, which contributed to the genocide there. But for the majority of people on the planet, we still have a short window, but a fast-closing window, for us to actually act with the urgency to put the clean technology infrastructure that we need.

And let’s be clear: What we need is a revolution, an energy revolution from a dirty, brown, fossil fuel-driven economy to a clean, green, renewable technology-driven economy. The good news is we can have a double win for the planet. If we do it right, we can address climate change by taking our dependence off fossil fuels and depending on clean energy sources that will be there for centuries. By the way, even if climate change was not a problem, right, we should be making a change anyway, because oil, coal and gas are all finite resources, right? Just, you know, even from a commonsensical approach, that is what is needed.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, your assessment of the U.N. climate talks here in Warsaw?

KUMI NAIDOO: I would say that this COP, like too many of the COPs that we’ve all been at, is locked into a very unhelpful way of trying to move the process forward. Some of the powerful countries, like Japan, Australia, Poland, are holding us back. And I think that this is—we came to this COP with very low expectations. The Polish government has been brilliant in showing us that how, even with low expectations, they can do even better and drive us to even absolutely bottom—you know, bottom-of-the-barrel outcome. So we’re deeply disappointed with what’s happening here.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Kumi Naidoo. He is the head of Greenpeace International, just flew in from Amsterdam. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back from break, we’ll be joined by a pair of climate scientists who are calling for what some may view as shocking solutions to the climate crisis. Among their papers, “Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous—Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope.” We’re broadcasting from Warsaw, Poland. Stay with us.

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