8 Million Strong to Save the Arctic Is Just the Beginning

by Trillia Fidei-Bagwell

July 5, 2016

We've already come so far, but the story of the movement to save the Arctic is just beginning to unfold.

'I Love Arctic' Day of Action in Argentina

Volunteers create a human 'I Love the Arctic' banner in Buenos Aires. More than 17,000 volunteers from around the world came together in 200 cities to form human banners demanding action on Arctic protection.

© Martin Katz / Greenpeace

The movement to save the Arctic has become one of the great stories of the environmental movement. It encapsulates the greatest challenges of our time into something simple and compelling, a way for millions of people to make sense of the world and work together to improve it.

For three years now, people across the world have joined together to seek a protected sanctuary around the North Pole, and an end to destructive industry across the Arctic.

Already, we’ve come a long way towards that vision, and today more than 8 million people have joined this movement. We have helped force one of the richest oil companies on earth — Shell — into almost total retreat. Thirty brave people risked their liberty in Russia and helped put the issue under a fierce global spotlight. Arctic drilling now looks less likely than at any point in the last two decades, and it’s thanks to the incredible global community that makes up this movement.

'Arctic 30' Global Day of Solidarity in Mumbai

Candlelight vigil in solidarity with the Arctic 30, the activists and journalists detained after a peaceful protest against oil drilling in the Russian Arctic in 2013.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been just three years since Greenpeace launched its Arctic campaign.

In 2013, the Arctic was far from the political or financial agendas. Oil companies saw it as just another ‘play’ — the logical next step in the hunt for the last drops of oil on earth. Politicians assumed that it would be carved up, exploited, and sold.

We set out to change this tired old story, to turn drilling for oil in the Arctic into a rallying call for people power.

Protest against Shell at Fredericia in Denmark

Kayaktivists in Denmark protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans as part of a global wave of action.

We’ve seen real drama along the way.

The sight of a giant icebreaker forced to turn around in Portland was an incredible symbol of what people working together can do. On the other side of the world, thousands rode bicycles in Bangkok to celebrate a part of nature they might never see.

These are just two of the hundreds of events, rallies, and actions that have brought us closer to lasting Arctic protection. It is impossible to list them all.

Shell Bridge Blockade in Portland

Colorful streamers float on the wind under the St. Johns Bridge where climbers and kayaktivists attempt to prevent the Shell-leased icebreaker MSV Fennica from joining Shell’s Arctic oil drilling fleet. The Fennica came to Portland to have a gash in its hull repaired after being damaged in the Arctic as Shell prepared to explore for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

Behind the scenes, this campaign has chipped away at the foundations of corporate power.

By working with big institutional investors, we’ve helped transform the Arctic from a source of industry bravado to a place of massive risk, both financial and reputational. We’ve made it harder for companies looking to drill and fish in the far north to clean up their image through brand partnerships, diminishing their cultural influence.

The impacts of this have extended beyond the Arctic circle, helping to weaken relationships between corporations and politicians elsewhere in the world.

'Act for Arctic' Ice Ride in Thailand

Cyclists take to the streets in Thailand as part of a global “Ice Ride” for the Arctic.

And the politics are starting to change.

Some of the most powerful countries in the Arctic now openly embrace an agenda of protection, not exploitation. We’re still some way from creating a sanctuary, but this dream seems more possible than ever before. We are building a coalition of people, groups, and cultural figures who see the importance of this work and who lobby independently on its behalf.

Audrey Siegl and Emma Thompson at Shell HQ Protest in London

Actor Emma Thompson and Canadian First Nations activist Audrey Siegl protest with a giant polar bear outside Shell’s London headquarters.

We always hoped that our Arctic campaign would have a ripple effect across the world. The past three years has shown this happening in ways we never expected.

When we win this campaign and create an Arctic sanctuary, when oil companies retreat and Indigenous Peoples are treated with the respect they deserve, we will turn these small ripples into great waves of change.

Together, we will save the Arctic. Thank you for being a part of this movement!

People's Climate March in New York City

Activists call for Arctic protection at the People’s Climate March in New York City.

By Trillia Fidei-Bagwell

Trillia Fidei-Bagwell is the Digital Engagement Team Leader for the Arctic campaign at Greenpeace International.

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