The Arctic 30: a hard lesson learned

oped.arctic30As of this publication, there are 30 Greenpeace protestors in a prison in Murmansk, Russia. They are charged with “hooliganism” most recently, with their earlier charges of piracy dropped by the investigators. What are they being detained for? According to the head of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo; “crimes that never took place”.

On Sept. 19, 28 activists and two journalists attempted to board a Gazprom-owned oil rig in the Arctic. They have since then been detained to much international uproar and protest. Numerous celebrities and icons, such as Paul McCartney and the archbishop Desmond Tutu, have appealed to Valdimir Putin for their release. So far however, it doesn’t look good.

The original charges of piracy were indeed a bit much, as it couldn’t be proven that the 30 had any intention of stealing from the oil rig, “Prirazlomnaya”. Furthermore, it was even legally disputable that the rig actually counted as a vessel, a requirement of the wording. However, hooliganism is far from plausible in this situation, being that it’s a common answer in Russia for protest. The currently imprisoned members of Pussy Riot were brought in on the very same charge. What’s more, international law is involved as well. As investigator Vladimir Markin has stated, “According to the norms of international law, any person commits a crime if they illegally and deliberately seize a stationary platform, or take control of it, irregardless of their intentions”.

So, in the most technical of sense, the Arctic 30 are in the wrong. They took to international waters and boarded a privately owned commercial oil rig that was in operation – rather unsafe, and definitely illegal, even if it was to only attach a banner to the platform.

What’s more, while a banner or an occupation surely represents the interests of Greenpeace, is it going to accomplish anything else? Are multi-billion dollar corporations going to be swayed by two and a half dozen people trespassing on their property? I wish they would, but it’s very unlikely. We live in a society that is entirely dependent on oil, as nearly everything we produce requires oil for the production or the materials themselves. Before trying to end the oil industry, maybe the focus should turn to fighting our societal addiction to oil. While I don’t condone drilling in the arctic circle –– due to the obvious detriments to the environment –– I’m not so stubborn as to assume the oil industry could end today without any consequences. There are other avenues for activism that don’t involve breaking international law.

The hooliganism charge could have the 30 put away for seven years. The fact is, if they were released now, they probably wouldn’t try something this risky again. After spending two months in a Russian prison in the Arctic circle, you’d think so. This most likely serves as example enough to people who think they should feel safe invading oil rigs North of Russia. This wasn’t a stand-in, or someone chained to a tree in the park; this is serious business with serious consequences. We would hope that the Arctic 30 and whoever else works with Greenpeace in such ambitious protests knows this going into it.

I don’t think the Arctic 30 should spend seven years in a Russian jail. It’s simply too much to go by the rules when you know their intention. That said, I don’t think this should go unnoticed. As much as we’d love it, intentions will rarely absolve us of the consequences.

-Tim Stacey

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