Last month I attended the trial in Staines magistrates’ court, of a group of activists charged with offenses relating to the shutting down of five Shell petrol stations back in July. The activists were from Greenpeace, and their actions against the oil giant Shell were part of a day of action which saw 78 Shell stations shut down in London and Edinburgh, and part of a week of action against Shell with direct action and protest taking place in over 30 countries, involving thousands of people. The people in the dock in Staines that day ranged in age from their early twenties to late fifties, among them a care worker, a foster mother to four children, and a playwright.
The week of action was and is part of a sustained campaign against oil drilling in the fragile and pristine Arctic, home to unique species like polar bears and narwhals, to indigenous communities who live in ways unchanged for thousands of years, one of the last wild places on earth. The Arctic campaign encompasses, not only direct action against Shell and other oil companies, but also the gathering of over 2 million signatures of people who want to declare the Arctic as a global sanctuary; relationship building with Arctic communities; the enabling of scientific research on Greenpeace ships; and a political process – through the Arctic council and the UN – to try and reach global agreement that the area around the North Pole must be off-limits to industrial exploitation.
Sometimes when we talk about peak oil, we put aside the fact that there is still great deal of oil in the ground and under the sea, enough left to fry the planet several times over, and much of it difficult and dangerous to extract – deep in oceans, under the fast-melting Arctic ice, absorbed into Canadian tar sands. The technology to reach this oil is improving and the economic incentives to do so are becoming greater. So as we Transition on one hand to a society that uses less oil, on the other we urgently need to stop the companies from extracting every last barrel of oil on the earth.