Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Fennica Actions: “Bold, cultural revolution” comes to Portland

Greenpeace climbers blockade Fennica from St. Johns Bridge in Portland.
The same week Pope Francis in his climate encyclical called for “a bold cultural revolution” to win “liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm,” a group of kayaktavists in Seattle boldly set themselves in front of Shell Oil’s monster oil rig departing to drill in the Arctic.  This past week the revolution came to Portland when kayaktavists and climbers hanging from St. John’s Bridge blocked passage of Shell’s icebreaker Fennica, a vital element of the Arctic drilling fleet. 

The climbers held position for 40 hours from early Wednesday morning until the ship was finally able to slip by Thursday.  That was 32 hours after the time it was scheduled to depart from a Willamette River drydock where a three-foot gash in its hull was repaired.  The Fennica was carrying a containment device without which Shell cannot drill into oil-bearing strata.

The climbers and kayaktavists in both Portland and Seattle actions exhibited in the most profound way possible the meaning of “a bold, cultural revolution” against “the dominant technocratic paradigm.”  They put their bodies and lives in the path of massive machines that could not more acutely represent that paradigm and its global insanity – The third largest corporation in the world, whose own projections show catastrophic global warming of 4°C, furthering that scenario by continuing to expand the fossil fuel frontier and doing it in a region where warming-driven ice melt makes it more possible, the Arctic.  

To even have a chance of holding warming below the standard safety barrier of 2°C, most fossil reserves must be kept in the ground including all Arctic gas and oil, a new study in Nature concludes. But the real barrier is more like 1°C, concludes world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen and his team.  Going to 2°C will cause radical sea level rise, as much as 10 feet in 50 years, inundating coastlines and coastal communities, a new Hansen study shows.

If dramatic cuts in carbon pollution do not commence soon, Hansen writes, “. . . Los Angeles, New York, Miami and three quarters of the biggest cities on the planet should prepare for life underwater.”

New York City with 100-feet sea level rise, virtually inevitable if most fossil fuel reserves are not left in the ground. That includes the Arctic oil for which Shell is drilling.  Shell itself projects a 4 deg. C global warming.  That would set the planet on a path to melting all polar ice, which would inundate New York under 250 feet of rising seas. From Spacialities Drowned Cities Project. Among other cities also available for purchase are Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong, Boston, Seattle, Portland and Montreal.

Ironically, the very drydock at which the Fennica was parked would be underwater with a 10-foot rise, this Climate Central mapping tool shows.  Look at the docks sticking out into the Willamette toward the upper left center.

I was in front of those docks a week ago Saturday paddling my kayak in a quickly assembled flotilla of around 70 boats.  Less than 48 hours before a circle meeting in a Northeast Portland church decided to go for the Saturday action.  Building on the Seattle actions including the May 16 Paddle in Seattle, the local Climate Action Council and member groups 350PDX and Portland Rising Tide had been preparing for some time.  They already had dozens of people signed up for kayak-tion and were ready to swing into gear with phone banks and social media.  350 Seattle activists were on hand to help. Backbone Campaign, originator of the kayaktavist idea and one of the key Seattle organizers, was also on hand with its truck filled with props, banners to be used in the Saturday event, and spare kayaks. 

Kayak flotilla in front of Fennica.
The Saturday event was a roaring success, banner lifts in front of the Vigor Shipyards dock containing Fennica covered on all local TV stations, even live a couple of times on KOIN-6.  But it was only the prelude for what was to come. 

The ship only pulled in before dawn Saturday morning.  Expectations were repairs would not take long.  Shell has only a several-month drilling season, and time is money.  Organizers were alerted the ship was planning departure around 10am Wednesday.  Greenpeace deployed its 13 climbers from the bridge in the wee hours.  Morning light saw the awe-inspiring sight of an aerial blockade across the high bridge.  Meanwhile kayaktavists and supporters gathered in Cathedral Park on the east end of the bridge. 

When the climbers deployed red and yellow streamers, using Shell’s own colors against it, the visual spectacle was incomparable.  It was an example par excellence of a term coined by Backbone founder Bill Moyer, “artful activism.” Through the day people gathered in the park and took to the water beneath the climbers, who were starting to bake in their harnesses. Temperatures climbed to and above 100, very rare in Portland, and would stay up there both action days.  As if to double up on the message that global warming has already arrived with a vengeance and we better do something about it quick. 

The morning of the second day, Fennica took off from the dock and approached within 300 feet of the climbers only to turn back.  It was clearly a move to trigger a prior injunction by an oil-industry compliant federal judge that Greenpeace affiliates had to remain at a greater distance from Shell Arctic fleet ships.  The judge charged Greenpeace $2,500 for each hour the climbers remained, going up $2,500 a day to reach $10,000 on the fourth.  Later in the afternoon, local police and fire crews took control of climbers’ lines and forced three in the center down to the water.  A path through the center made for passage, Fennica took off from the dock and approached. Dozens of kayaktavists and other boaters rushed into the channel, defying a Coast Guard closure.   
Kayaktavists and other boaters confront Fennica.  The sailboat was piloted by Ken Ward, who in 2013 was one of two who stopped coal shipments to a Massachusetts power plant by putting a lobster boat in the way. Confronted by a defense of necessity to protect Earth's climate, the local prosecutor dropped most charges and admitted the blockaders were right.  Ken now lives in the Portland area and is still at it, promoting action through the Climate Disobedience Center.
What happened then could only be described as police brutality on the water, kayaks rammed by police boats, people in the water having cop jet skis spew directly in their face.  But, learning some lessons from Seattle, the kayaktavists put up a fight that lasted some time.  Fennica was forced to halt before the cop fleet effectively cordoned off the kayak flotilla. Fennica finally snaked its way through the narrow passage a little before 6pm. 

Around 25 kayaktavists received citations.  To support them donate here.

Obviously, the kayaktavists and climbers never expected to hold Fennica back long.  But that was not the point.  In one of the most visually stunning and inspiring direct actions anywhere in years, they put themselves in the way of a globally suicidal oil drilling operation.  They showed the meaning of true moral courage and drew the attention of the world to Shell’s technocratic madness.

Artful Activism.  Painting by local artist Gabriel Liston.
The great environmental archdruid David Brower used to close every speech with a line from Goethe: "Anything you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." The bold cultural revolutionaries who acted in Portland this past week showed all of that. Genius. Power.  And magic. 

On to the next action.  And the next. And the next.  Until we indeed do liberate ourselves from the dominant technocratic paradigm and its varied insanities. 

Dream.  And be bold. 

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