"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do." - Mark Twain

When I was 26 years old, this quote gave me the courage to do what I thought was right. 

Just over a decade ago, with the help of Greenpeace, I faced down the largest coal power plant in North America, the Nanticoke Generating Station. Just weeks ago, Nanticoke was demolished to make way for a solar farm. 

Back in 2007, I had just joined Greenpeace. I felt I needed to do something about the threat of global climate change, but wasn’t sure how.  Not long after joining I was asked to expose how dirty coal stations were hurting the climate and push the Ontario government to shut down Nanticoke and invest in the renewable energy.

The Ontario government had committed to phase-out coal power, but was dragging their feet, and getting distracted by false solutions like nuclear power. The idea of spending massive amounts of money on dirty and dangerous power when investment in clean renewable energy was sorely needed was simply unacceptable for many of us.

So, we called in the Arctic Sunrise, one of Greenpeace’s ships (whose voyages I had only followed in newspapers, as it traveled to both poles). That summer would be the Sunrise’s first visit to Canada’s Great Lakes, and I would get to follow this voyage, too — this time, as an activist onboard.

I was excited! I got to work with an international crew of smart, passionate and dedicated people. Their resolve was contagious They’d been involved in battles to protect the climate around the world. I was also empowered to learn how my local actions were contributing to a global movement to protect the climate.

The crew, campaign team and I waited onboard for our big chance. Finally, it came.

Nanitoke Action 1

On the morning of August 30th, 2007 — just before the provincial election — we saw a ship carrying dirty coal cruising toward Nanticoke. We launched a number of small inflatable boats (just like I’d seen on TV growing up) from the Sunrise.

This was it. This was go-time.

I was a bit scared. We were trying to stop a massive coal ship while riding the waves of the Great Lakes.  The Algomarine, the coal transport vessel, was intimidating. It dwarfed both the Sunrise and our small boats. It painted the perfect metaphor: a small group of environmentalists demanding action on climate change going up against one of the largest and most powerful industries in the world. David and Goliath.

I screwed up my courage, swung my body out and grabbed a small ladder on the Algomarine. A fellow activist and I scrambled up the ladder and, when we reached the top, locked ourselves to the loading boom of the ship. The mission was simple:  take action and shine a light on the energy future we wanted. 

We forced the Algomarine crew to stop the ship and drop anchor. We’d done it: stopped the coal shipment.

Nanitoke Action 2

Nanitoke Action 3

The two of us spent over 12 hours on that vessel, bringing attention to Ontario’s dependence on dirty coal and forcing politicians posturing for re-election to explain how they'd stop it. Eventually, we were escorted away by police boats and taken to jail for the night.

The next day, we were brought in front of a judge. I knew my future was in his hands, but like all Greenpeace activists, I took action because I believed in what I was doing. I believed in my power to make big change.

I’ll always remember the judge looking at me as he announced that I was sentenced to 50 hours of community service and — he added with a smile — that my time locked onto the coal ship was NOT to be counted towards those.

I’ve continued to volunteer and work with Greenpeace for another ten years since spending those 12 hours locked down to that coal ship. It gave me hope in the courage of small groups of people to make a difference.

Eleven years later, coal is over in Ontario, and there are other young Greenpeace activists standing up to coal in places like Germany and China.

We’re all part of something bigger.  Activists and Greenpeace campaigned for years to transition from coal in Ontario and this fight continues around the world.

If you’re reading this and you’ve ever given your time, your voice or your money to Greenpeace, I want to thank you. YOU made this happen! The millions of Greenpeace supporters around the world were with me on that coal ship, and together we made change happen.

If you haven’t given yet, there’s always time, hopefully, in another decade, we’ll see the end of the dirty fossil fuels industry as a whole and celebrate a clean energy future.

Please consider supporting the next ten years of Greenpeace activism. You never know what will become the start of a huge victory, like this one.

Charles Latimer

Project Management Specialist, Greenpeace Canada

The future is solar