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Some Good News: We are all crew on this voyage

Posted by on Feb 24, 2017 in Climate, Ecosystem, Oceans, Polar | One Comment
Greenpeace ship Esperanza on her route towards Antarctica in a Force 10 storm.

Greenpeace ship Esperanza on her route towards Antarctica in a Force 10 storm.

About a month ago, Deutsche Welle journalist Irene Quaile AKA Iceblogger wrote, in a piece titled Some Arctic good news – not #fakenews!

“With the environment and climate under constant fire from the actions of President Trump, it is great to end the week with a little piece of good news”.

“One thing that made me smile was the announcement that the famous cruise ship operator Hurtigruten had signed the Arctic Commitment, calling for a ban on the use of marine heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic.”

“So let’s go into the weekend with a round of applause for the tireless campaigners for a clean Arctic. It is hard for an environment journalist to be optimistic in these difficult times. But every little helps. And winning over the cruise ship industry which so many people associate with holiday expeditions into remote areas with intact nature and spectacular wildlife would be a great way to get a wider public “on board” for the voyage to protecting the icy regions of our warming planet.”

We’re about to enter another weekend, when tired campaigners for human rights, civil rights, animal rights, and the environment try to sleep a bit later than usual. Unless they have small kids. But while they try to rest, the nihilistic free market economics machine rumbles machine, and its detrimental impact upon the world continues. The current chapter of the Dakota pipeline protest is closing, but this could be the start of something remarkable, not the end. The New York Times tell us that President Trump is taking aim at the environment and all manner of scary stuff being predicted for the North Atlantic. So on a Friday afternoon I find myself harking back to Irene’s comments.

As someone who works as a communications advisor to environmental campaigns, I like to tell myself that I’m not just a “PR guy” peddling #AlternativeFacts. I work to promote and protect a brand, and that brand is Planet Earth.

One of the organisations I work with, the Clean Arctic Alliance, is campaigning to get heavy fuel oil out of Arctic shipping. Last month, in Tromsø, Norway, we launched the Arctic Commitment, calling on the international community to sign up, and thereby contribute to protecting Arctic communities and ecosystems from the risks posed by the use of HFO. Read more: This is How You Make an Arctic Commitment.

By burning HFO, ships sailing in the Arctic – and anywhere else –  harmful emissions of air pollutants, including sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and black carbon. When emissions from HFO are deposited on Arctic snow or ice, the climate warming effect from the black carbon is at least three times more than when emitted over open ocean – leading to even more accelerated melt. So, it’s crucial that the global shipping industry start shifting away towards a fossil fuel free future – something that may be hastened by last week’s EU vote to include the shipping industry in Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

There’s more. Next week, the European Parliament will is expected to pass its Arctic resolution, a broad document that, amongst other things, includes a recommendation to a ban on heavy fuel oil from the Arctic. In July, we’re expecting member countries of the International Maritime Organization to start the ball rolling on eventual ban, thanks to unprecedented interest in the issue.

Another recent piece of good news – widely reported, then swept away by all the bad news was a story from my homeland, Ireland. A bill introduced by member of parliament (TD) Thomas Pringle for Ireland to divest from fossil fuels to the Dáil Eireann, the Irish parliament, passed 90 to 53 votes. This means that’s the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund will no longer invest in any fossil fuel related activity. Ireland is the first country to take such a bold move. Even the apparently squeaky clean Norway, which has been divesting like crazy from its mammoth sovereign pension fund, is still up its elbows in generating revenue directly from the sales of oil.

To be, this Mr Pringle’s achievement is historic and incredible. Ireland has been lagging behind on its climate change obligations for some time, overplaying the “sure we’re only small what difference do we make” card, along with the agricultural version of Norway’s Arctic oil card “Our beef industry has relatively low climate impact, so if we stop doing it, someone else will replace us and be more carbon intensive”. My hope is that this helps change the narrative for Ireland, and instead of being a heavy per capita user of carbon-based fuels, that we take a cultural leap of faith, and use our punch-above-our-weight influence to good for the global climate. Nice move, Ireland, now do better.

After reading Irene’s blog, and the news from Ireland, I read Naomi Klein’s article for The Nation, Trump’s Crony Cabinet May Look Strong, but They Are Scared. Klein points out that the likes of Exxon’s Tillerson on Trump’s staff of evidence of a desperate fossil fuel industry in its death throws. In fact, I believe that they are so scared that this is how they’ve fought their way – capitalising on the complacency of others – into the Oval Office.

“And no one has more reason to fear ascendant social movements than Tillerson. Because of the rising power of the global climate movement, Exxon is under fire on every front. Pipelines carrying its oil are being blocked not just in the United States but around the world. Divestment campaigns are spreading like wildfire, causing market uncertainty. And over the past year, Exxon’s various deceptions came under investigation by the SEC and multiple state attorneys general. Make no mistake: The threat to Exxon posed by climate action is existential. The temperature targets in the Paris climate deal are wholly incompatible with burning the carbon companies like Exxon have in their reserves, the source of their market valuation. That’s why Exxon’s own shareholders were asking increasingly tough questions about whether they were on the verge of being stuck with a whole bunch of useless assets.”

As that weekend passed, climate-change denier and Trump advisor Myron Ebell, inadvertently endorse Klein, when he declared that the green movement was the ‘greatest threat to freedom’.

What Ebell meant, of course was that the actions of those wish to protect the planet are a great threat to his personal freedom to do whatever the fuck he wants, even if that means screwing up the planet for the sake of the paltry dollars he would like to accumulate (by way of Exxon) before he pops his clogs, like all of these rich stupid old white men. Ya can’t take it with ya, Myron.

Of course Exxon is desperate to drill. That’s why, back in December, the new US secretary of state AND Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson declared that Exxon will head back to the Arctic once Russia sanctions are lifted.

Maybe there’s some light showing through in the dark. It’s been impressive to see the mass mobilisations and protests against Trump in the US, and the bulwarks of the rule of law pushing back at his every move. In Europe, we need to wake up, and maybe we’re starting to. In France, it looks like politicians of reasonable, but different shades are cooperating to ensure that the appalling Marine Le Pen gets defeated in the forthcoming presidential elections. A Le Pen win in France, would be bad news for a post Brexit-EU, and the knock on environmental effects are at best unclear right now.

The reason these oil drillers and right wingers and climate deniers are manipulating and lying, twisting the truth and attacking is that they don’t care about you. They care about what they care about, and what they care about is preserving an idea of world order that either never existed, or if aspects of it ever did then they are way past their sell by date. They think that they can afford to cling to these shreds of nonsense and get away with it, and that be setting us against one another, they can distract us so that they can pursue their ridiculous zero sum game.

We can’t afford to humour them. We should abandon them their dangerous populist fantasies, and work together, as pluralists, to at least agree that we have a hell of a lot of work to do, and that we need to work together, as countless people do already worldwide to strive for a better, safer, cleaner society. In her blog, Irene talking is about getting “a wider public ‘on board’ for the voyage”. As environmentalists, activists, politicians, teachers, journalists , parents, friends, that’s what we need to do. As Marshall McLuhan wrote,

“There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

You can follow Irene on Twitter at @iceblogger