Originally posted on The Drum
© Denis Sinyakov/Greenpeace
I've got a colleague called Alex who normally works in the same office as me in Sydney. If you are fortunate, you will have someone like Alex at your work place too.
She's mid-twenties, quietly spoken, talented and hard-working, helpful and friendly; the sort of person whom you are really glad to find on your project team, or pleased to bump into for a chat on the stairwell. She's passionate about what she does, but never loses her sense of humour.
Lately though, Alex has not had much to smile about. Ten days ago our Alex was apprehended at gun point by Russian security officials who have kept her under detention ever since.
Along with 29 other people, Alex had volunteered to go to the far north of the world on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, to stage a peaceful protest against Russian oil giant Gazprom which is trying to become the first company on earth to extract fossil fuels from the Arctic. Also part of the crew was Aussie radio operator Colin Russell, a beaut bloke from Tasmania.
At first, two Greenpeace activists took peaceful action at Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya platform, by attempting to climb and establish themselves on its outside structure. As the Russian's own footage shows, the Russian security officials reacted disproportionately by firing warning shots and targeting the activists with water canon before detaining them under armed guard.
Next, just 12 hours later, armed Russian security forces dramatically boarded and, I believe, illegally seized the Arctic Sunrise and detained the crew, though not before Alex, Colin and one other crew member managed to lock themselves inside the radio room and get word to the outside world. As the action was unfolding, it is likely to have been Alex who loaded one last tweet:
The Arctic Sunrise was then towed to the Siberian port of Murmansk, during which time the crew were denied access to legal advice and the outside world. All 30 have now been remanded in custody for two months, while the Russian authorities investigate piracy - an allegation so obviously ludicrous and without legal foundation that Russian president Vladimir Putin has said that "it's completely obvious that of course they are not pirates." The obvious injustice of the situation has sparked a world-wide wave of peaceful protests in sympathy with the Arctic 30. Amnesty International has condemned the Russian actions.
Adding to the poignancy of the situation, the captain of the Arctic Sunrise is none other than US citizen Captain Pete Willcox, a popular visitor with the Rainbow Warrior to Australian shores earlier this year. Willcox knows a thing or two about state security officials abusing power because he was the skipper of the first Rainbow Warrior when it was blown up by French secret agents in Auckland Harbour in 1985.
Pete, Alex, Colin and the rest of the Arctic 30 were in the far north because of a shared conviction about the madness of Gazprom's actions. Drilling for oil in the Arctic is insane. There is no way that an oil spill in the Arctic can be cleaned up and the fragile, frozen and beautiful polar regions are particularly susceptible to terrible damage from industrial pollution. And any oil that is extracted will end up in the atmosphere, driving climate change faster and causing the Arctic ice - already in deep trouble - to melt further. The situation could not be more perverse.
The response to peaceful protest of the Russian security and industrial apparatus is particularly absurd and extreme, but it should be seen as part of a wider global pattern. From Murmansk in the Arctic to the Pacific coast of Australia, the dead hand of the fossil fuel industry is heavy on the arm of governments. According to the IMF, the fossil fuel industry is subsidized to the tune of more than $US 1.9 trillion per year. In Australia, the malign impact of the fossil fuel industry is exemplified by the arrogance and influence of the coal mining companies. These are the vested interests that must be challenged if precious places like the Arctic and the Great Barrier Reef are to be saved and if we are to have any chance of keeping climate change below two degrees.
Alex's desk now lies empty and she is much missed around the office. I'm sure her family misses her terribly, as any family would. We all sincerely hope that the Russian authorities see sense and that Alex and her friends and colleagues are released very soon. But the actions of the Arctic 30 are brave and admirable and have echoed around the world. Alex Harris is an ordinary young woman who decided to draw a line in the ice: for the Arctic, for the climate and for our shared future. And along the moral path that the Arctic 30 and others of their conviction have trodden, many more will surely follow.