Recorded on Sept. 19, 2013, members of the Russian Coast Guard seize the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise following a protest by Greenpeace activists at a Russian oil platform in the Pechora Sea.
Sept. 19, 2013 - Members of the Russian Coast Guard seize the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise following a protest by Greenpeace activists at a Russian oil platform in the Pechora Sea.

Professor Rob Huebert was correct when he said in his recent iPolitics article that Canadian officials are under-resourced and unprepared to deal with an emergency in the Arctic region.

“Will Canadian officials be prepared when Greenpeace or some other environmental group occupies rigs operating in Canadian waters?” he asked.”Will we have the ships — such as Arctic offshore patrol vessels — to provide the necessary support?”

Just replace the word “Greenpeace” with “oil spills” and Mr. Huebert is making the very point made by the more than five million people around the world who are calling for a ban on offshore Arctic oil drilling and a global sanctuary around the North Pole. Canada, like all Arctic countries, is woefully unprepared to deal with the fallout from an oil spill in the “remote,” “very difficult and dangerous” Arctic conditions that Mr. Huebert describes.

And if Canada doesn’t have the capacity to deal with a handful of peaceful protestors, how prepared are we to deal with a Deepwater Horizon-style blowout in the treacherous, icy conditions in the Arctic?

Even the U.S. Coast Guard has stated that it is nowhere close to being able to respond to any significant oil pollution event in the Arctic off the Alaskan shoreline — to say nothing of the more pressing dangers in the Russian Arctic, where Gazprom has just started producing the world’s first oil from Arctic waters, a challenge that Russia’s deputy prime minister has said “exceeds sending man into outer space.

Mr. Huebert also raises broader geopolitical concerns when he says that “protesters’ occupation of a Russian oil drilling platform was seen by many as a principled stand against environmental degradation, and their forced removal by the Russian military was widely viewed as draconian overkill.”

In fact, it was far more than mere overkill. The seizure by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) of Greenpeace’s ship was also seen as “draconian” by people such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 13 Nobel Peace Prize winners, the EU Parliament, writers and musicians and artists and actors and more than five million people from all over the world who joined the global outcry following the unlawful arrest and detention of the Arctic 30 and the ship.

The FSB’s heavy-handed response to Greenpeace’s Arctic protest was seen around the world as an attack on freedom of speech. It also raised another question: Just how far will governments go to protect the interests of the oil industry?

Should Canada follow Putin’s example, to the disdain of the global community? Ready the military, fire cannons at Greenpeace vessels, point guns at peaceful protestors, all in the name of defending the world’s wealthiest industry? Or can we instead begin a serious conversation about where our energy comes from and what an acceptable level of risk looks like?

Mr. Huebert says: “There is little doubt that the various environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, will mount similar protests on these rigs in Canadian waters.” And why? These activists certainly aren’t taking such extraordinary risks for their health, or for the comfort of their families. They’re compelled to act because our governments are failing us by catering to the oil industry and ignoring the scientific community and their own people.

There is a bigger question here, a meta-narrative, about how we power our planet and who really calls the shots in government. And until we address the issues that the Arctic 30 and other peaceful protesters are raising — rather than the protestors themselves — then we’re continuing to treat the symptoms rather than the sickness.

Joanna Kerr is the executive director of Greenpeace Canada.

This piece was originally published on iPolitics on April 3rd, 2014.