ShellNo: the Kayactivists won

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#ShellNo: the Kayaktivists won


by John S Lewis/Backbone Campaign under a CC Licence

In April, in the cold sea near Seattle, many yellow, blue, green and red kayaks surrounded a very big oil rig.

They are the Kayaktivists, about 500 of them. The oil platform/ship (the ‘Polar Pioneer’) belongs to Royal Dutch Shell. It was going to the Chukchi Sea, off Alaska, to look for oil. Environmentalists say Shell’s plans are very bad for the planet.

Shell wanted to start its Arctic drilling from the port in Seattle. But after the Kayactivists, they said they might go to another place.

Weeks later, there were more kayakers in Portland – together with activists who blocked the MSV Fennica (Shell’s 115-metre icebreaker). This was not good for Shell’s plans to explore.

People said that slowing down a few ships won’t do anything. And that, Shell has already invested more than $7 billion, so the #ShellNo campaign to stop Arctic drilling would never be successful.

But in late September, Shell suddenly said that it would stop all exploration activity off the coast of Alaska.

Shell said this was not because of the activists, but because of economics. And analysts say it is because of the low price of oil.

But Shell also said the regulations around Alaska made it difficult. This was made more difficult because of the activists.

The Houston Chronicle said that activism made Shell’s Arctic campaign slower and more expensive. For example, there were legal fights (by conservation groups and Alaska Natives) against the 2008 government auction of drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea.

The greens put pressure on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. So she said she was against Arctic drilling in August. This would make it more difficult for Shell to extract resources.

Shell’s project became too expensive.

Stuart Elliott, an analyst from energy information group Platts, told the BBC, ‘It is possible that Shell might be happy to stop exploration for a real operational reason, not just giving in to environmental pressure.’

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said that big oil had clearly lost.

A few weeks later the Obama administration finally agreed to activist demands. They cancelled permission to drill in the Arctic for the rest of the time Obama is President.

The Canadian Globe and Mail wrote that investors managing about $2.6 trillion have said they will take this money away from fossil fuels. And this is a result of the international campaign to stop investment in fossil fuels. Coal companies are now getting less investment around the world.

This is because of effective protest. It stops people accepting what they did before. It makes immoral business more expensive. And makes it less certain that the mining companies will get political support.

We do not always win. But sometimes people who are creative and daring – people who paddle kayaks and bring many friends – win, even though many people say what they are doing is useless.

Sometimes the Kayaktivists win.

Mark Engler’s new book This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-first Century will come out in early 2016. See the website

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).