Young explorers, Greenpeace plant flag on seabed at North Pole, call for global sanctuary

Feature story - April 16, 2013
In support of the global call for the protection of the Arctic, over 50 Greenpeace Africa supporters took part in a human banner on Saturday to echo the message that climate change has no borders. The human banner which read: " I ♥ ARCTIC" was part of global activities in light of the North Pole expedition to ensure the safety of the Arctic.

 

Four young people on a mission with Greenpeace planted a flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole, at the same spot where a submarine planted a Russian flag claiming the Arctic for Moscow. The young people planted their ‘flag for the future’ four kilometers beneath the ice at the top of the world and called for the region to be declared a global sanctuary.

The campaigners held a ceremony this weekend at the geographic North Pole, led by two Arctic Indigenous ambassadors. There they cut a hole in the ice and lowered a flag designed by a child from Malaysia, through the freezing waters to the seabed.

The flag is attached to a glass and titanium time capsule containing the signatures of nearly three million people, including actors, musicians, artists and business leaders who asked for their names to be taken to the Pole when they joined Greenpeace’s campaign calling for the Arctic to be protected from exploitation. Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu this weekend joined the call for a global sanctuary, saying, "I offer my full support to these young people who travelled to the North Pole on behalf of those whose lives are being turned upside down by climate change.”

Hollywood actor Ezra Miller — star of We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Perks of Being a Wallflower — is one of the youth ambassadors who planted the flag and the names. Another is 26-year-old Josefina Skerk, an Indigenous activist and Sami Parliament member in Sweden.

"By coming to the top of the world and planting this flag, we’re hoping to inspire young people everywhere. We’re here to say this special area of the Arctic belongs to no person or nation, but is the common heritage of everyone on Earth," said Skerk. "Our names and those of millions more are now planted on the seabed beneath the Pole. Together we're asking that this area be declared a global sanctuary, off-limits to oil companies and political posturing. We stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, in the whole of the Arctic, whose way of life is now being threatened by the unchecked greed of industry.”

The expedition coincided with the first ever meeting at the North Pole of the Arctic Council, the governing body comprised of foreign ministers and senior officials from Arctic states. As the expedition started, Skerk requested a meeting with the group, but was refused. The weeklong expedition to the Pole is part of a global campaign to protect the Arctic, under threat from climate change, oil companies, industrial fishing and shipping. As global warming melts the sea ice, companies such as Shell, Gazprom and Statoil are moving in to exploit the region's oil as nation states lay claim to areas previously covered by ice.

The youth ambassadors and Greenpeace campaigners have challenged the companies and nations seeking to profit from climate change. By planting the time capsule and flag, they have drawn a line in the ice, telling the polluters and oil companies: you come no further.

The young people are part of a Greenpeace team that trekked for one week across the frozen ocean in freezing winds and temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius. They traveled around 10 km a day, each dragging heavy sleighs weighing 80kg behind them. In a remote and dangerous environment their supplies dwindled as the shifting ice took them further from the Pole. The team then hitched a ride with a helicopter that was flying in from the nearby Barneo Base, to put them within striking distance of the Pole, allowing them to ski and drift a shorter final distance and complete their journey to the top of the world.

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