In Portland, Oregon, law enforcement officers have removed Greenpeace activists who spent 40 hours suspended from the St. Johns Bridge in order to block an icebreaking ship commissioned by oil giant Shell from leaving for the Arctic. Hundreds of activists have been gathering on the bridge and in kayaks since Tuesday night in efforts to stop Shell’s plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. Early Thursday morning, the suspended Greenpeace activists successfully forced Shell’s ship to turn back to port in a showdown that grabbed international headlines. Joining us to discuss the action is Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Portland, Oregon, where law enforcement officers have removed Greenpeace activists who spent 40 hours suspended from a bridge in order to block an icebreaking ship commissioned by the oil giant Shell from leaving for the Arctic. Hundreds of activists have been gathering on the bridge and in kayaks since Tuesday night in efforts to stop Shell’s plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. Early Thursday morning, the suspended Greenpeace activists successfully forced Shell’s ship to turn back to port in a showdown that grabbed international headlines. Greenpeace activist Kristina Flores discussed watching the ship turn around as she stood on top of St. Johns Bridge on Thursday.
KRISTINA FLORES: This morning was quite the adventure. It felt really, really great to watch the Fennica turn around and go back to port. That was just a really great, great sign that we are winning, that we are strong, and when the people come together, we can win. And we will win.
AMY GOODMAN: Joining us from Portland, Oregon, is Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.
Annie, we spoke to you a few days ago. You were on the bridge at the time, as the Greenpeace activists descended by rope from the bridge to try to stop this Shell rig from going through. Can you tell us what’s happened since?
ANNIE LEONARD: Well, yesterday was an absolutely incredible day, a display of people power. Throughout the day, the crowds just kept growing, as you said. There were hundreds of kayakers going in shifts, filling the river so that if the boat tried to leave, there would be both lines of defense—the aerial barricade and then the people.
In the morning, Shell went—got a hearing in a court in Alaska. Shell had taken out a preliminary injunction prohibiting us from going within a certain distance of them and prohibiting us from interfering with their work. The court did find us in contempt of court and ordered us to get off the bridge and fined us hourly fines starting at $2,500 an hour, going up to $10,000 an hour. We met with the climbers on the bridge. We really felt it was their decision, first and foremost. And we all decided to stay on the bridge, that saving the Arctic was worth more than the monetary value of the fine that they were imposing. So we stayed absolutely put there.
Then, around 3:00 in the afternoon, the police came out to the bridge and began to escort the anchors off. The anchors were the people that each climber had on the bridge to ensure their safety, who stayed there 24/7. They took them away, gave them very minor citations and released them. Then they started to force the climbers down. And in an incredible display of just absolute chaos, the police and the Coast Guard came, forced the climbers down and began to take them all away. And they only opened up—didn’t take all of them; they opened up an opening large enough for the Shell ship to come through. The ship started to come, and dozens and dozens of kayakers came and threw themselves in front of the ship. People jumped out of their kayaks to try to stop them. People were on inflatable pool toys. And it was absolute chaos. The Coast Guard ran over one of the kayakers. I mean, it was absolute mayhem.
The Coast Guard managed to pull all the kayakers away, one by one, in a very dangerous situation, clearing just enough space for the Shell vessel to squeak through. It came so close to the remaining climbers that were there, squeaked through. People on the shore literally started crying. It was just heartbreaking to watch this thing go through, because we know the climate implications. It squeaked through, and then it headed out to sea to go up to the Arctic and start the drilling process.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about why that ship came into port in Portland. In fact, it was already out at sea. It was already in the Arctic but got a hole in it somehow? Sprung a leak?
ANNIE LEONARD: Right, that’s a very—that’s a very important point, too. This whole thing happened in Portland because of Shell’s incompetence. The Arctic is a very, very dangerous place to drill, and all the other oil companies have dropped out and said it is too dangerous, too expensive, it just doesn’t make sense. This ship is required to be there when the drilling happens. The permit requires it. It ran into something and got a 39-inch hole in its hull. It couldn’t be fixed in Alaska, presumably didn’t want to go back to Seattle, where there had been such protest, so it came to Portland on a very tight timeline to repair it and then get back up to the Arctic. And that’s why this blockade was so powerful, was that any delay that we could have shortened the amount of time that Shell can drill this summer, because they have such a short ice-free window. They have to get up there, drill and get out before the winter ice returns.
AMY GOODMAN: So how long did it take this ship, that had sprung a leak, which makes you nervous about other things that could go wrong in the Arctic that involve oil spills—it took it what? Something like 12 days to make its way down, in this very narrow window, to get fixed, turn around and then come back—go back?
ANNIE LEONARD: That’s right. And so, presumably, it will take another 12 days to get back up there.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about the people who suspended themselves from the bridge? Can you talk about exactly what they did? I mean, the action called “Rappel Shell” is pretty astounding, the bravery of doing something like this. It was sort of like—I thought of Bree Newsome, who climbed the flagpole to take the Confederate flag down, but this was going the other way: They were rappelling down.
ANNIE LEONARD: Right. So, they went up into the bridge in the middle of the night, secured themselves very safely—they really are professionals at this; I mean, Greenpeace knows what it’s doing on the technical front—and then rappelled off the side of the bridge. They had hammocks, they had climbers’—kind of like rock climbers use—bags of equipment, and they stayed there for 40 hours. And I cannot explain to you what the conditions were like. Portland is having record heat. It was over 100 degrees during the day and then very cold at night. They stayed there, and up until the end, they were emotionally and physically strong, and said they wanted to stay, because their commitment to keep that Arctic oil in the ground was stronger than their human frailties at that moment. They absolutely wanted to stay.
AMY GOODMAN: Annie, I wanted to go to this point. This is not just incidental to the story, when you talked about this record heat. From AccuWeather.com this morning, “Record-Challenging Heat Wave Bakes Seattle and Portland, Oregon”: “Temperatures will crack the century mark throughout Oregon’s Willamette Valley and many of the valley locations of the interior Northwest.” Can you talk about this record-breaking heat wave and why Greenpeace is doing what it’s doing?
ANNIE LEONARD: It is so baking hot in Portland. I grew up in this region. This is just unprecedented. There were times that I was actually worried about the climbers’ physical health. And I thought, how ironic that it is climate change that drove them up there, and at times I thought it might be climate change that would force them down. Absolutely so hot.
And the Arctic is connected to this, because scientists have said that we need to keep 80 percent of the known fossil fuel reserves underground if we’re going to stay below that two-degree threshold over which climate scientists say will be absolute catastrophe. If we go up to two degrees, it’s still going to be bad, but absolute catastrophe. Scientists have looked at what oil reserves around the world need to stay underground, and the Arctic is at the top of the list. It is really well documented at this point that extracting Arctic oil from the region and then putting it into market and then burning it will guarantee that we go over two degrees. So this is—this is a situation where Shell is not just threatening an ecosystem that provides important habitat or threatening a beautiful forest or river that we’re fond of. This is a situation where Shell’s Arctic oil drilling is actually threatening everything and everyone that we love. And we want to do whatever we can to stand up and stop it.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Annie Leonard, Shell can’t do this on their own. So explain how the Obama administration is involved. I saw some of the banners yesterday of some of the people hanging from the bridge, and they had Obama’s name on them.
ANNIE LEONARD: Well, that’s because Shell still does not have the absolute final permit that it needs to drill. Even though they’ve spent about $4 billion so far invested in drilling this summer and have all their equipment up there or now on the way up there, they still need one final permit. And so, the future of the planet, in so many ways, is in Obama’s hands. He still has time to deny that one final permit. And in a way, we were doing him a favor, by buying him a little extra time, holding that ship back and giving him time to stand up, be the real climate leader he keeps saying he wants to be, and deny that permit. It’s crazy that they’ve granted it at all, because even the Department of the Interior’s own scientists have said that if an oil company drills in this region where Shell wants to drill, that there is a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill. And I thought, my gosh, would you get on an airplane with a 75 percent chance of crashing? I mean, it is just crazy for this project to go forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the judge said he was going to fine Greenpeace. But was everyone there involved with Greenpeace? Did people spontaneously get involved with these actions?
ANNIE LEONARD: That’s a very good point. The people on the bridge were Greenpeace. The people on the ground and in the water, which really grew to hundreds and hundreds of people, were not Greenpeace. They were Mosquito Fleet, 350, Rising Tide, and then just everyday citizens that were unaffiliated. People just came down by the scores to just fill the crowd. People were driving across the bridge, dropping off food and water for the climbers. We got emails of support from all around the world. There were a couple of news channels that were live doing this. I got messages from Argentina and Turkey, where people said that all around their offices and homes they were gathered around the TV watching this. I have never, in my 30 years of work as an environmental activist, seen this level of support coming in from locally and all around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, but the ship made it out, so what is Greenpeace doing next?
ANNIE LEONARD: We are doubling down on this campaign. I feel like the climbers came down, but really what they did was pass the baton to the rest of us, that we need to now pick it up and run with this. Greenpeace everywhere has made this a global priority, and we are just doubling down to protect the Arctic and stop that drilling.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Annie Leonard, for joining us, executive director of Greenpeace USA, speaking to us from Portland, Oregon.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the controversy around Planned Parenthood. Will Congress defund it? Stay with us.