Two years ago I posted films and words from the cargo ships that took me to – and the sailing boat that sailed me around – the High Arctic.
Whilst waiting at Longyearbyen port for the first of the cargo ships home, I was amazed to watch the Arctic Sunrise dock. Asking the captain whether they could take me with them to their next port of call: Amsterdam – he said, ‘if you can volunteer as a deckhand then yes’.
So that’s how I came to travel for one week with the Arctic Sunrise and how I met that expedition’s crew, some of whom are now in a Russian prison.
One week ago I read Open Democracy’s article about the seizure of the Arctic Sunrise, the arrests of the crew, journalists and activists – and the West’s muted response.
Every day new battle lines are drawn in the fight for our future. Almost imperceptibly those with power – those exploiting our planet and exploiting us – crumple stories that could inspire and give people hope.
The arrest of the Arctic 30 and the West’s acquiescence – our leaders’ acceptance that innocent people – doing the right thing – will be punished, breaks away at our understanding of what democracies depend upon and should fight to protect – our planet, human rights, a protest ship.
When I was on board the Arctic Sunrise welcomed me and made me feel part of their crew. John, Po Paul and Paul – all sailors – are now in prison. Below is some footage I took of them.
This is Doreen. She came to speak to the Lush UK shop managers in February about the situation of fracking in Lancashire. Lush decided then to host a Frack Off campaign in 105 UK and Irish shops. Now resistance to fracking is kicking off in Balcombe – West Sussex, with the Reclaim Power ‘climate camp’ pledging to stop Cuadrilla’s drills between 16th-21st August.
Make their presence your reason to come to the Balcombe camp – it is safe, peaceful and creative (with a kids’ space, safety in numbers and the media’s eyes fixed on the protest). Make your promise to the future and to a line that we should never cross.
There’s always another day just waiting for the dawn. There’s always someone who has it better than you, and a whole lot of people who have it worse. I’m on my hastened route to England and I’m urgent to arrive because despair, or no despair, one person can do a lot – and the limits of what a group can achieve is just the limits of our imagination.
My journey to the Arctic (see images in the below post!) began with hopelessness and has ended with a very still and certain optimism. For the first time in my life I think this good mood and energy might be sustainable too! As my friend EJW wisely says: “all we can do is keep positive and try our hardest.”
I won’t exhaust myself and I won’t hurt others and myself by pointing a blaming finger their way. There are so many more pressing concerns and it’s difficult to believe that any one thing is ‘the thing’ to fight for with so many competing priorities. But I will fight. I’ll fight furiously for the future that Andrew Tobert wrote without a moment’s thought: “devoid of landfill, clean air, rainforests, diverse oceans, people working less because they don’t feel the need to fill their homes with useless tat” Why not fight too?
First some perspective, which I rarely have and I take as a gift. Last week I stood on an island where the rocks contain no fossils because the island was there before life began. It is an arrogance to think that
we’ll destroy the world, though we might destroy each other, which is a hell of a lot easier to campaign against.
The Arctic will melt, oceans will rise and I hope – and will use activism as my commitment to this hope – that we will live well in the world that follows. I won’t give up on that hope. Until the world holds
sustainability rather than growth and acquisition at its heart (eventually inevitable) I’ll be an irritating and unstoppable reminder of that hope 😉
Now the trick is to work out how to capture and keep people’s attention. I don’t think it’s about pretending there is a glorious alternative waiting in the wings. I think that’s a disingenuous assertion – treating
people like idiots for wanting all of the extraordinary things our society has made possible for all (well not quite all – but the majority).
There’s no alternative, not yet, because we haven’t built it yet. Now that’s an exhausting (AND EXCITING) thought. People are starting to – I’d love people to post examples they’ve seen or heard about below. Whether it’s a sustainable communications company that exists to sell de-growth, an economic think-tank based on making people happy rather than obese, an artist pondering about a ‘new environmental conceptualism’ and committing half her time to sustainable transport campaigns or an activist group inspired by the Suffragettes and trying hard to be accessible to all.
The beginnings of an alternative are definitely out there, and the most exciting thing is that these radical voices are more convincing by the day.
Get involved folks – there’s a whole world of sustainable solutions to be built, and if some days you want to cry and give up – then do but remember that dawn is just around the corner.
Right now I’m aboard the Greenpeace ship: Arctic Sunrise. A hitched lift home to London (via Amsterdam where they dock their ships) is the final leg in my holiday of journeys. Thank you Daniel and all of the crew aboard. I could not imagine a more inspiring way to close this trip (there’s a peace dove painted on my door, a helicopter outside my cabin and a ship full of extraordinarily fierce and daring activists).
Below are some photos from the Arctic…
It’s taken me six hours to get out of bed. I know everybody has these days – when the side of the bed that faces the wall is the only comfort you want. Sometimes it’s after a heavy night, which ends with words erupting, smeared all over the caring eyes of the person you love. I’ve been there. Off my head at three in the morning and on a mission – wanting my love to know how great and solitary that mission was. And then I woke the next day, and she was next door and I felt so stupid to have thought anything could be achieved without her, alone. But by then it’s too late. You’ve hurled arrogant despair at the person you like best. They’ve withdrawn from you and it won’t be the same again.
Today I woke up in a cargo ship on my way to the High Arctic and shoved my face into the crack between the mattress and the wall. When I did turn my body round the sad fact of bright September sunshine and 14 degrees Arctic temperature was too much so I reverted to the edge of the mattress. When nature called I finally got up and sat heavy on the loo. I knew that around me stranger sailors were getting on with their jobs and further – some hundred miles north – a Greenpeace boat was measuring the lowest volume of Arctic ice since records began. I cried for the first time in months with my elbows on my bare knees and my temples in my hands and tears being squeezed out desperate to make some sort of physical sign acknowledge that this moment had happened.
A friend of mine once bought a book about living in this society whilst being hyper aware of its contradictions – that there are 9bn people on one shrinking planet and we all want – and are told it’s right to want – more. I wish I could remember what the book was called.
I’m out of bed now and writing because every day of this trip the number one item on my to do list has been:
write a ‘what are you doing?!’ inspiring and condemning call to arms, or manifesto, or letter or anything that people will read and will motivate them to risk everything to push our leaders, communities, families into preparing for climate change.
And I hadn’t managed it, but I hadn’t yet woken up in tears about climate change, so perhaps today’s the day. Problem is I don’t know what to say. In a way since I left university there’s been a lot of attempts to ‘raise awareness’ and ‘motivate change’. There have been small inspiring moments when my involvement in the ‘green movement’ has been a good thing (and moments where my ambitious careerism has made me, and others, question my motivations for caring at all) and then there’s the general fact that fewer people care about climate change than did when I began, that people I met along the way who inspired me have now given up their public fight and that many of those who do continue to campaign are feeling exhausted – and here I am on the trip of a lifetime weeping at my computer.
Today I don’t much want to go to the Arctic. After two weeks on various boats I’m just 5 hours away. In the seas around Svalbard it’s warmer and calmer than the Captain has ever known it to be so late in the year – and I’m getting sadder by the mile. Visiting the Arctic which is disappearing because of climate change – no not climate change – but because still we do nothing to limit our impact – turns out to be the most depressing thing I’ve ever done. It isn’t helping me ‘accept’ that we’ve changed the climate, nor is it wowing me in any way that isn’t sorrowful. It’s just scary and fucking sad that people with power and influence have flown here and seen this and still climate change is bottom of their agenda; that Greenpeace have a ship here and a dedicated comms team pushing messages to global media and yet it’s unreported.
I don’t know what it will take, or what all those people who graduated with me – and since – and before – are doing? What’s anyone doing who wants to grow up with comfort? I don’t know where to fling myself to make a difference, but there’s no way I could stop flinging. Since I was taught about the very simple facts of climate change (go to NASA’s climate website), and worked out their significance to now and the future, I’ve taken opportunities where they’ve opened. I’ve reacted to public and political debate. I’ve tried to coax people into an ‘exciting world’ where we don’t need fossil fuels – where something other than money, things and economic growth has value. I go for coaxing because somewhere along the way I was told that fear doesn’t motivate change and that speaking apocalyptically turns people off.
Arctic ice is melting, the Greenland icesheet is retreating – all of it – all of the global glaciers that have been there for hundreds of thousands of years are turning to water. And what where it’s hot, or where low-lying states are susceptible to flooding?
We know the things we do that make climate change irreversible (it involves burning fossil fuels). We know the things we do which use up limited resources (it involves free market consumerism). We can predict what will happen if we have increased natural disasters and fewer natural resources. It’s such a big turnaround that’s needed – heroic really – and instead all of the nations who make the problem are refusing to acknowledge that the decisions they make are the only solution. The people in charge put off the difficult debates and painful decisions so that our parents – their voters – can continue to live well, our parents who will not live to see the consequences of this neglect.
We need to build resilience. We need to consider how our society will cope with immigration when we make Africa uninhabitable, when Pakistan is under water (with current UK debates about immigration and international aid this is my most depressing thought). But instead international negotiations have stalled and climate change is not a mainstream problem or debate.
I’m in the Arctic and I will keep trying to see it with the enchantment it deserves – especially as so few are going to be able to see what I will. And yet – even that – is just another reason to mourn.
Can I make the ‘call to arms’ when I get home? It hurts too much here and I don’t know how to write with hope. Promise to be upbeat again soon, probably when I see Svalbard and remember how natural it is to be part of something.