It’s official. On Friday, Shell got a step closer to drilling for oil in our planet’s last wild ocean - the Arctic.
The company’s oil spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea off Alaska was given the all clear by US authorities, even though it’s a work of almost complete fantasy.
While Shell prepares to start trashing this stunning wilderness, putting it at risk of catastrophic oil spills and more melting as a result of more climate change, its PR people are getting busy. This evening, they’ve invited influential guests to an event at the National Gallery in London, in the hope that those guests will lend the Shell brand a veneer of respectability.
We’ve decided to tell their guests the truth: this year Shell is planning to drill for oil in the pristine waters of the Arctic, and its plans will change this fragile wilderness forever.
So our climbers have made sure that guests at the National Gallery are met with an unexpected picture when they arrive; a short while ago, they evaded security and are preparing to unfurl a huge banner with the words “It’s no oil painting”. Our climber Hannah is tweeting from the rooftop using the hashtag #SaveTheArctic.
Meanwhile, Paula Bear has emerged from her wintry den to mingle with the crowds in Trafalgar Square, where dozens of Greenpeace volunteers are talking to curious passers-by.
Polar bears – like other Arctic species including beluga whales, narwhals and walruses – are already under severe pressure in the Arctic from climate change. In just 30 years, the Arctic has lost 75% of its sea ice, and temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth.
While more and more people recognise the changing face of the Arctic as a stark warning about climate change (earlier today, several scientists gave evidence to this effect to the parliamentary inquiry, Protecting the Arctic), Shell sees the melting ice as a business opportunity – a chance to drill in newly accessible areas to find more of the oil that caused the melt in the first place.
And Shell's plans pose a new threat to the Arctic’s stunning – and ecologically fragile – coastlines and oceans: the threat of a catastrophic oil spill, which would be impossible to clean up.
Shell is just first of the so-called ‘supermajors’ - the big oil companies - to make exploitation of the Arctic a key part of their strategy. But if it strikes oil this summer, other global oil giants may follow.