BP is taking its drills to the Arctic. Who's going to stop them?

The masters at Marvel comics would struggle to find bad guys worse than these.

Take two of the world’s biggest environmental villains – Russian Rosneft (special powers: oil leaks. 7,526 in 2009 alone) and British BP (special powers: oil spills. Gulf of Mexico, 2010).

Fuse them together in the lab sprinkled with a ministerial handshake here (from a climate secretary!) and a tax-break there (from a Russian super-politician) and the hybrid monster is almost complete. All they need now is a target.

Well on Friday evening, that was announced: BP and Rosneft are setting their drill sights on the Arctic.

At first glance, it’s no contest: surely the powers of the ancient Arctic are epic compared with the puny upstarts of BP and Rosneft.

For starters, the Arctic cools the entire planet by reflecting sunlight off its ice, some of which is thousands of years old. The Arctic plays a vital role, not only in being home to endangered polar bears, whales, seals, narwhals and other species, but also in providing the earth with a stable climate. This in turn helps give us our delicate balanced ecosystems that we need to sustain many species, including ourselves.

In short the Arctic’s special power is: life giver.

But despite these huge strengths the Arctic suffers one gaping vulnerability: it has no defences.

There is no army to protect the Arctic frontier, there is no board of shareholders to shield its assets. Not Jack Frost, Iceman or Ymir to lend a hand. The Arctic is in a very real sense, open to exploitation.

And BP and Rosneft are striving to be its number one exploiters.

In our oil-hungry world, we’re having to go deeper and further to find more fuel to feed our addiction. Rather than choose more efficient technologies and cleaner alternatives, companies like BP and Rosneft and their allies across big carbon industries are doing their best to convince us that we don’t need to change.

They want to keep driving our oil consumption in whatever way they can. If that means siding together with the car lobby to prevent more efficient vehicles they will. If it means pressuring politicians for fossil fuel subsidies they’ll do it. If it means expanding airports and keeping airline fuel tax-free they’ll make sure it happens.

Because BP, Rosneft and the rest of big oil know that while they rake in the money at the production end, it’s those of us at the consumption end that are driving the industry. We are a key part of that chain. Ultimately, we write their cheques.

But there’s a kink in that chain. As news showed this week, graduates are choosing jobs in renewables over those in the oil industry. We’re beginning to realise that the smart future is in clean, green energy that protects and celebrates our planet, not in oil and fossil fuels that are choking the earth and driving up global temperatures.

 As this chorus for a green future gets louder, the oil industry is more desperate to chase the oil while it still can, in riskier and more fragile environments: deeper water, tar sands and now the Arctic.

And this is where we return to the comic book analogy. For while the Arctic with its immense life-giving and sustaining powers appears defenceless to the invasion of big oil, it is not entirely without hope.

There are billions of individuals – tiny and seemingly insignificant - who at first glance are just another digit on the oil industry’s balance sheet, with no special powers at all. They spend most of their time spectating, commenting on the events around them, passive observers to events they persuade themselves they cannot affect.

But on occasion, at points in their history, their background humming changes into something more distinct: cries of outrage coupled with the realisation of collective power. It’s at times like this that corrupt regimes crumble, corporate crimes get challenged and those that have no voice finally get heard.

This story of the Arctic hinges on whether this will be one of those moments, when those individuals who normally sit back and watch the world go by stand up and take action.

That’s the only power that can stop the drills from heading up into the ice.

You’re the Arctic’s only hope.

Join the Greenpeace activist network to take action for the Arctic in 2011. It’s going to be a busy year.

Photo All rights reserved. Credit: Nick Cobbing / Greenpeace