Thursday 11th July 2013: A group of artists and activists has evaded security guards at the base of the Shard and is now climbing up the outside of Western Europe’s tallest sky-scraper. If the six women reach the top - 310m above the pavement - they will attempt to hang a huge work of art that captures the beauty of the Arctic.
They chose to climb the Shard because it towers over Shell’s three London offices, including the oil giant’s global headquarters on the Southbank of the Thames. Shell is leading the oil companies’ drive into the Arctic, investing billions in its Alaskan and Russian drilling programmes. A worldwide movement of millions has sprung up to stop them, but Shell is refusing to abandon its plans.
The Greenpeace volunteers began their climb at 4am this morning, and if they succeed – which is far from certain – they expect the gruelling project to take most of the day. The lead climbers are ‘free climbing’ (scaling the building without assistance) but are fixing safety ropes as they progress. They are carrying the huge work of art in backpacks and will install it this afternoon if they reach the summit.
Shell operates out of its Thameside global headquarters; from its UK headquarters in Shell Mex House on the Strand; and from ten floors in Canary Wharf. The Shard sits between all three, and was designed by architect Renzo Piano to resemble a shard of ice, making it the perfect site for an Arctic art installation.
The climbers are live-streaming from helmet cameras, with birds-eye views of their ascent being broadcast live at www.iceclimb.savethearctic.org. If they can hang the Arctic artwork it will be the highest successful installation art project since Philippe Petit tightrope-walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 - a feat made famous in the film Man on Wire.
One of the climbers is Victoria Henry, 32, a Canadian living in Hackney, London. Before beginning the climb she said:
“We’ll try to hang a huge art installation 310m up that will make Shell think twice before sending their rigs into the Arctic. It’s going to be really hard work, it’s going to be nerve-shredding for all of us and we may not succeed, but we’re going to do everything we can to pull it off. Millions of people have called on Shell to get out of the Arctic but they’re still trying to drill there anyway. If we reach the top we’ll be able to see all three of Shell’s London offices below us, meaning they’ll be able to see us. Maybe then they’ll stop ignoring the movement ranged against them.”
“When I was a kid I loved all those Attenborough nature shows, and when I saw how some people trashed these beautiful pristine places I just wanted to shout something from the rooftops. That’s what this is all about. If we can get to the top of that skyscraper and do what we’re planning then Shell’s top executives will look out of their office windows and see the beauty of the Arctic towering above them.”
Shell has invested $5bn in its Arctic programme, but after a series of embarrassing mishaps – including a grounded rig and a fire on a drill ship - it was forced to abandon its plans to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska this summer. But the company has now signed a deal with Vladimir Putin and state-owned oil giant Gazprom to drill in the Russian Arctic, a region where regulation is lax and accidents are commonplace.
Another of the women is Sandra Lamborn, 29, from Sweden. Before starting the climb she said:
“You can’t drill safely in the Arctic, the conditions there mean a spill would be devastating. And of course the only reason they can drill there at all is because climate change is melting the ice cap, meaning the rigs are moving into areas that used to be frozen. That’s why I’m climbing that skyscraper slap bang in the middle of Shell’s three main offices, because they want to drill for the fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s crazy. I’ve come to London to make a stand. We’re drawing a line in the ice and saying to the oil companies, you come no further.”
The women are from the UK, Canada, Sweden, Poland, Holland and Belgium. Greenpeace is campaigning for the area around the North Pole to be made a global sanctuary, off-limits to industrialization. More than three million people have joined the call at savethearctic.org.
For more information contact Julie Macken on (0)2 9263 0314
Photo and video available
Media briefing on the climb, the climbers and the threat posed to the Arctic by the oil companies