Greenpeace Arctic activists knew the risks


By Sean Plunket

I've never been held in a jail cell but it is, I imagine, not a very pleasant experience. I also imagine Russia would be one of the worst places to find yourself incarcerated, along with North Korea, Myanmar, El Salvador and China.

Certainly the 30 Greenpeace activists from 18 different nations currently held at the pleasure of Vladimir Putin's government are finding the going pretty rugged.

Among their various complaints is the fact that it is cold, there are some nasty people in jail with them and the guards do not speak English. Well what did they expect – Sky and a sauna?

One cannot imagine that the crew of the Arctic Sunrise headed to the Arctic circle to illegally board an oil drilling rig with the expectation that a country with a long history of state repression and brutality was going to welcome them with open arms, put up its hands and cease drilling for black gold because a bunch of well-intentioned foreigners are worried about global warming, polar bears and whales.

It would have been the height of naivety for the world's largest multinational protest group to think it could out run or out-manoeuvre a nuclear-armed ex-superpower with one of the largest navies in the world. So we can logically conclude that the Arctic Circle 30, including two Kiwis, set off on their protest with the expectation and indeed the intention of being arrested, quite legally, for breaching the laws of Russia.

In those circumstances the faux outrage Greenpeace is now expressing around the globe can be seen only as part of a carefully planned and executed campaign in which the 30 jailbirds were either willing participants or unwitting pawns.

The campaign has reached all the way to Wellington with local Greenpeace members holding a rally outside the Russian Embassy in Messines Rd, Karori, last weekend and our diplomats in Moscow being instructed to provide what support they can to the New Zealanders banged up in a cold cell in a foreign land.

I, for one, can't get that worked up about it and took some comfort in the thought it could never happen here, until I saw Campbell Live on Wednesday night.

It featured a story about a few Kaikoura residents opposed to oil exploration in the Pegasus basin by Anadarko. Over endless shots of the Deep Sea Horizon disaster the piece pointed out that Anadarko had a share in that oil platform (though it was a sleeping, not an operational partner) and then suggested that the seismic mapping of the seabed could scare off the whales, which are something of a tourist attraction.

There was quite a lot of emotional handwringing about future generations and the evil of multinational companies like Anadarko and then a dig at Energy Minister Simon Bridges for refusing an interview.

The piece correctly pointed out that new laws make it much harder for sea-borne protestors to interfere with people going about their lawful business and rightly highlighted the woefully inadequate level of oil spill response vessels we have.

But I would have taken the five or six outraged locals far more seriously had they been advocating the voluntary shutdown of the entire whale-watching industry.

Even a sometime climate change sceptic like me knows that jumping on an aeroplane is probably the worst thing anyone can do for the environment.

And almost all the foreign tourists who come to connect with the giants of the sea off the Kaikoura coast have come here on airplanes that use avgas produced from oil wells run by those big, evil, international oil companies that are all about making profits, just like those tourism operators in Kaikoura.

But the locals didn't mention that on the telly and the item about their outrage was followed by a visiting photographer who talked about how nasty the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was and how it made him depressed.

Bummer, but on the upside Greenpeace had brought him all the way down to New Zealand on an airplane to show us his pictures and talk about those evil oil companies.

I was particularly struck by the comments of a Kaikoura fisherman who is so outraged by oil exploration that he says he'd go to prison over it. I'm sure that is what Greenpeace want but at least he'll have a warm cell and guards who speak English.

Dominion Post, Saturday 12th October 2013

source: data archive