The Greenpeace New Zealand office gave us a standing ovation when Shai, Ra, Mike, Shayne, Lucy and I finally arrived ‘home’ from New Plymouth, and for the very first time since we set out to board the Noble Discoverer five days ago I started to panic a bit.
The first time I entered this building was on the first of October 2008. I had arrived in New Zealand from the Iceland two days earlier and I was here for a job-trial as a Door-to-Door Fundraiser. Greenpeace New Zealand itself had just re-located from Valley Road to a new, bigger office on Akiraho Street in Mount Eden. There were still cardboard boxes all over the place waiting to be unpacked, and there were builders and plumbers and electricians coming and going, working to make our new home more eco-friendly.
Lots of people at Greenpeace New Zealand remember that day, but not because was the day they met me, although everybody was of course very welcoming. Simon Boxer, one of our climate campaigners, had chosen that drizzly Wednesday afternoon to deliver a full staff briefing on some very important new scientific findings about climate change.
I didn’t know very much about climate change. I was there because I’d seen a job advertisement that read ‘do you want to save money, save the planet and travel New Zealand?’ and that’s a pretty hard question to say ‘no’ to.
Simon explained how new science from a group called the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change showed that we were a lot closer to seeing runaway climate change than anyone had previously thought. He explained how we were in immediate danger of passing one of the Earth’s climate system’s internal tipping points – the disappearance of most of the summer sea ice in the Arctic - and that many other climate change impacts were outpacing even the worst-case scenario projections. The consequences for the earth’s fragile ecosystems and for communities around the world would be terrible if we didn’t do something.
Maybe it was because the rest of us looked so devastated, or maybe it was because he was still coming to terms with the reality of the situation himself, but Simon had tears in his eyes by the end of that briefing. As for me, I had to go away and do a lot of independent reading before I could believe that everything he had told us was completely true, but by the end of that briefing I had a feeling that I was at the beginning of something much bigger than just a new job.
I have taken part in so many amazing campaign activities with Greenpeace and with the wider movement to stop the climate crisis over the last three and a half years. I have participated in several direct actions. I have learned to climb and I know that working up high usually entails discomfort and stress and bad sleep and too many musli bars. I have been arrested and I have been to court before, and when I boarded the Noble Discoverer on Friday morning I was totally prepared for all of that to happen again.
The thing that I feel utterly unprepared for and overwhelmed by is the sheer number of people who have been inspired by what the seven of us achieved in those 77 hours. We’re just seven little people who climbed a ladder, ate some muesli bars and took a stand. Walking into the Greenpeace office and having people like Bunny McDiarmid and Simon Boxer applaud you for that felt too much.
Likewise, leaving the police station on Monday evening and being presented with taonga by tangata whenua from the Parihaka community also felt like too much. We were later told that these people had attempted to resupply us with food and water as their guests.
It has been incredibly difficult after four days of living with this feeling of complete empathy and solidarity with Ra, Shayne, Shai, Mike and Lucy to realize that we are now beginning to process what happened down here in the real world while we were occupying that drilling tower in completely different ways. I don’t even know yet when I will see them all again.
For me, I guess work on the campaign to save the arctic has just started. Next Monday I will be back in my day job as an Outreach Campaign Team Leader, working to inspire people one by one to join this strong new campaign to keep Shell and oil industry out of our precious Arctic.
Last night I began to read the hundreds of messages of support that people from all over the world left for us; my favorite was from Amy Melson in Alabama:
Because of these men and women, I'm going to start doing what I can because everyone doing his or her part, even if we are only doing a little bit, is the only way we will ever accomplish anything big.
Since I joined Greenpeace New Zealand, the threat of climate change has increased because governments and corporations have failed to take action to tackle the problem. The Arctic sea ice is still disappearing at an alarming rate. Yet instead of seeing this as a warning that we should be transitioning away from the very fossil fuels that caused this problem in the first place and towards clean, safe, renewable energy, companies like Shell are exploiting the opportunity to squeeze the very last drops of oil from our Earth.
We stopped the Noble Discoverer from leaving for the Arctic for 77 hours, but what’s more important is what we started. In the space of five days we have already gotten almost 200,000 people on board with this campaign, thanks in no small part to the courage and integrity of one Lucy Lawless whose presence on the ship turned what would have been a remarkable action regardless - into a global mind bomb.
Lets do everything we can to keep that momentum going.